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A peculiarity unique to the Western world among those who celebrate Christmas (or the annual winter gift-giving holiday of your choice). A group of people -- family members, classmates, co-workers, etc. -- throw their names into a hat, then draw out the name of another person, and give a gift worth up to X amount of money to that person. The idea is that everyone in the group gets one gift from someone else, so no one feels left out of the holiday celebration.

Something in my spleen really dislikes this whole approach to the holiday, because it undermines my whole idea of what a gift is. I like to give people things for the holidays because they mean something special to me, and because I have a little extra good fortune in my bank account which I'd like to share with them. I don't do it just because I happen to be related to them, or work next to them. It's a choice to give something I have. It's personal.

I understand the practical and economical motives behind a gift exchange, especially where a large family is involved. I understand that it helps keep people who don't have a lot of money to give gifts with from comparing themselves to those who do. This is is good and noble, but it still feels wrong somehow.

If someone can't buy me a gift because they can't afford to, then I'm certainly not going to hold a club of guilt over their head for it. If someone can and does, I'm going to be grateful and appreciative, but I'm not going to feel like any guilt is being held over my head to return the gift, because I may not be able to afford it either.

The problem, I think, is in the strange idea that gifts need to be exchanged. I give you something, you give me something, that way everyone is still equal. But if you celebrate your holiday that way, doesn't it undermine the whole idea of giving something? Why not share your good financial fortune with those you love without expecting anything in return? Why not accept those gifts from others who have something to give, and just feel grateful rather than obligated?

I, personally, would rather receive one Christmas card cheerfully given than ten gifts given out of a sense of obligation. I would rather give ten small presents to those I care for most than one large gift to the one person whose name I drew. Cliches notwithstanding, it's not the size or quantity of the gifts, but the thought that went into them, that truly counts.

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