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Gifts under a Christmas tree
Red gift box.

A gift or a present is an object given without the expectation of payment. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free. In many human societies, the act of mutually exchanging money, goods, etc. may contribute to social cohesion. Economists have elaborated the economics of gift-giving into the notion of a gift economy. By extension the term gift can refer to anything that makes the other happier or less sad, especially as a favour, including forgiveness and kindness[3].


Traditional envelope containing money as a gift, from Japan

When material objects are given as gifts, in many cultures they are traditionally packaged in some manner. For example, in Western culture, gifts are often wrapped in wrapping paper and accompanied by a gift note which may note the occasion, the recipient's name, and the giver's name. In Chinese culture, red wrapping connotes luck.

Occasions Common in Western Culture

The occasion may be:

  • Expression of love or friendship.
  • Expression of gratitude for a gift received.
  • Expression of piety, in the form of charity.
  • Expression of solidarity, in the form of mutual aid.
  • To share wealth.
  • To offset misfortune.
  • Offering travel souvenirs.
  • Custom, on occasions (often celebrations) such as
    • A birthday (the person who has his or her birthday gives cake, etc. and/or receives gifts) This is most commonly from a family member or girlfriend/ boyfriend.
    • A potlatch, in societies where status is associated with gift-giving rather than acquisition.
    • Christmas (People give one another gifts, often supposedly receiving them from Santa Claus, the Christ child or Saint Nicholas.)
    • Feast of Saint Nicholas (People give each other gifts, often supposedly receiving them from Saint Nicholas.)
    • Easter baskets with chocolate eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate rabbits are gifts given on Easter.
    • Greek Orthodox Christians in Greece, will give gifts to family and friends on the Feast of Saint Basil.
    • Muslims give gifts to family and friends on Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
    • Jews gives Hanukkah gifts to family and friends.
    • Hindus give Diwali gifts to family and friends.
    • Buddhists give Vesak gifts to family and friends.
    • Gifts are given to among African American families and friends on Kwanzaa.
    • A wedding (the couple receives gifts and gives food and/or drinks at the wedding reception.)
    • A wedding anniversary (each spouse receives gifts.)
    • A funeral (visitors bring flowers, the relatives of the deceased give food and/or drinks after the ceremonial part.)
    • A birth (the baby receives gifts, or the mother receives a gift from the father known as a push present.)
    • Passing an examination (the student receives gifts.)
    • Father's Day (the father receives gifts.)
    • Mother's Day (the mother receives gifts.)
    • Exchange of gifts between a guest and a host, often a traditional practice.
    • Lagniappe.
    • Retirement Gifts
    • Congratulations Gifts
    • Engagement Gifts
    • Housewarming party

Legal aspects of gifts

At common law, for a gift to have legal effect, it was required that there be (1) intent by the donor to give a gift, and (2) delivery to the recipient of the item to be given as a gift.

In some countries, certain types of gifts above a certain monetary amount are subject to taxation. For the United States, see Gift tax in the United States.

In some contexts gift giving can be construed as bribery. This tends to occur in situations where the gift is given with an implicit or explicit agreement between the giver of the gift and its receiver that some type of service will be rendered (often outside of normal legitimate methods) because of the gift. Some groups, such as government workers, may have strict rules concerning gift giving and receiving so as to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Religious views

Lewis Hyde remarks in The Gift that Christianity considers the Incarnation and subsequent death of Jesus to be the greatest gift to humankind, and that the Jataka contains a tale of the Buddha in his incarnation as the Wise Hare giving the ultimate alms by offering himself up as a meal for Sakka. (Hyde, 1983, 58-60)

In the Eastern Orthodox Church the bread and wine that are consecrated during the Divine Liturgy are referred to as "the Gifts." They are first of all the gifts of the community (both individually and corporately) to God, and then, after the epiklesis, the Gifts of the Body and Blood of Christ to the Church.

Ritual sacrifices can be seen as return gifts to a deity.

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