My last several blogs have focused on some pretty negative topics, from disposing of bodies to cannibalism to Friday the 13th. So it’s time for something a little more upbeat. A week ago was Giving Tuesday. And of course, December is a season of giving. So let’s consider gifts.
Ideally, a gift has no strings attached: there is no expectation of payment or anything in return—with the exception of thank-you notes. But we all know that ideal doesn’t always apply. For one thing, there is often an expectation of reciprocity. In addition, there are numerous customary “gift giving occasions” when the expectation of a gift makes it awkward or rude not to give something. The list of such occasions seems to grow yearly. Gift giving is a great plot/character device—the feelings of the giver and receiver, the gift chosen, the circumstances. What follows is an exemplary, not exhaustive list.
- Potlatch (Pacific Northwest tribes)
- Feast of St. Nicholas
- Feast of St. Basil (Greek Orthodox Christians)
- Eid al-Fitr (Muslims)
- Hanukkah (American Jews)
- Diwali and Pongal (Hinus)
- Vesak (Buddhists)
- Kwanzaa (African Americans)
- Wedding anniversaries
- Baptisms and Christenings
- Graduation or passing an examination
- Father’s Day
- Mother’s Day
- Siblings Day
- Gift exchange between host and guest
- Baby showers
- St. Valentine’s Day
- And, of course, Christmas
If the above list doesn’t meet your gift-giving inclinations, you can always observe any number of National [Insert Holiday Here] Day dates throughout the year.
- National Be Kind to Lawyers Day (2nd Tuesday in April)
- World Veterinary Day (last Saturday in April)
- Teacher’s Day (May 6)
- Grandparent’s Day (first Sunday after Labor Day)
- Mother-in-Law Day (October 26)
- 4th of July
- Administrative Professionals Day (last week in April)
- National Video Game Day (September 12th)
- International Nurses’ Day (May 12th)
- National Siblings Day (April 10th)
- Cousins’ Day (July 24th)
Although in the U.S. we think of gifts as coming packaged, with a ribbon, and probably a card, consider alternatives. Can a phone call be a gift? How about a service, such as weeding the flower bed? Transportation to an appointment? Offering to edit a colleague’s document? What constitutes a gift of the heart?
Promotional gifts are given to customers, clients, or employees. Mostly they serve provide advertising and/or goodwill purposes. AND they are tax deductible as business expenses.
Writers, consider dangerous gifts
Are there legal issues for gifts? Of course there are. Legally, a gift must be given as a gift (no expectation of reciprocation) and delivered to the recipient. In the U.S. (along with some other countries) gifts beyond a certain monetary amount are subject to a gift tax. In the U.S., that monetary value is $15,000 from one person to one person in a given year. Anything above that value means that tax issues must be considered, if only in terms of paperwork.
There is no limit on number of such gift can be given per year. But there is a lifetime exclusion (meaning all gifts to all people) of $11.58 million as of 2020. If this matters to you, “Congratulations!”
But, writers, consider your characters!
And consider when a gift can be considered a bribe. If there is an explicit or implicit understanding between the giver and the recipient that the recipient will do something—often illegal or against company guidelines—because of the “gift,” we’re talking bribery, even if it isn’t actionable. Government agencies and some businesses have strict rules concerning gift giving/receiving. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of avoiding the appearance of impropriety.
Unwanted gifts can occur in any category, for any occasion. Such gifts are often regifted, donated to charity, or thrown away. An unwanted gift that is a burden to the recipient in terms of care, maintenance, storage, or disposal costs is a a white elephant.
Sometimes unwanted gifts are returned or exchanged. The day after Christmas is the busiest day for this. And estimated $3.4 billion was spent on unwanted Christmas gifts in the United States in 2017. Surprisingly, the value of unused gift cards purchased in the U.S. each year is estimated to total about a billion dollars. Why? How could a gift card be unwanted?
Writers: what about your plot or your character would lead to unused gift cards? Could it be a clue? A character note?
As the biggest gift-giving occasion of the year, Christmas gives us (and us writers) the opportunity to consider myriad possibilities for the POV character, whether giver or recipient.