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Gifts under a Christmas tree
Red gift box
Gift packaging
Modern engagement gifts basket in Bangladesh.
Emperor Pedro I of Brazil receives a sword as a gift from his wife Amélie. It belonged to her father Eugène de Beauharnais.

A gift or a present is an item given to someone, without the expectation of payment or anything in return. An item is not a gift if that item is already owned by the one to whom it is given. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free. In many countries, the act of mutually exchanging money, goods, etc. may sustain social relationship and 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 any item or act of service that makes the other happier or less sad, especially as a favour, including forgiveness and kindness. Gifts are often presented on occasions such as birthdays and holidays.



In many cultures gifts are traditionally packaged in some way. For example, in Western cultures, 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. Although inexpensive gifts are common among colleagues, associates and acquaintances, expensive or amorous gifts are considered more appropriate among close friends, romantic interests or relatives.[1]

Gift-giving occasions[edit]

Gift-giving occasions may be:

Promotional gifts[edit]

Promotional gifts vary from the normal gifts. The recipients of the gifts may be either employee of a company or the clients. Promotional gifts are mainly used for advertising purposes. They are used to promote the brand name and increase its awareness among the people. In promotional gifting procedures, the quality and presentation of the gifts hold more value than the gifts itself since it will act as a gateway to acquire new clients or associates.[citation needed]

As reinforcement and manipulation[edit]

Giving a gift to someone is not necessarily just an altruistic act. It may be given in the hope that the receiver reciprocates in a particular way. It may take the form of positive reinforcement as a reward for compliance, possibly for an underhand manipulative and abusive purpose.[2]

Unwanted gifts[edit]

Giving the appropriate gift that aligns with the recipient's preferences poses a formidable challenge. Gift givers commonly err in the process of gift selection, either by offering gifts that the recipients' do not wish to receive or by failing to provide gifts that recipients earnestly desired. For example, givers avoid giving the same gifts more than once while recipients are more open to receiving a repeated gift,[3] givers prefer to avoid giving self-improvement products (e.g., self-help books) as gifts while recipients are more open to receiving such gifts,[4] when choosing between giving digital and physical gift cards, givers opt for the latter more often than recipients want,[5] and many receivers prefer a future experience instead of an object, or a practical gift that they have requested over a more expensive, showier gift chosen by the giver.[6] One cause of the mismatch between the giver's and receiver's view is that the giver is focused on the act of giving the gift, while the receiver is more interested in the long-term utilitarian value of the gift.[6]

Due to the mismatch between givers' and recipients' gift preferences, a significant fraction of gifts are unwanted, or the giver pays more for the item than the recipient values it, resulting in a misallocation of economic resources known as a deadweight loss. Unwanted gifts are often "regifted", donated to charity, or thrown away.[7] A gift that actually imposes a burden on the recipient, either due to maintenance or storage or disposal costs, is known as a white elephant.

One means of reducing the mismatch between the buyer and receivers' tastes is advance coordination, often undertaken in the form of a wedding registry or Christmas list. Wedding registries in particular are often kept at a single store, which can designate the exact items to be purchased (resulting in matching housewares), and to coordinate purchases so the same gift is not purchased by different guests. One study found that wedding guests who departed from the registry typically did so because they wished to signal a closer relationship to the couple by personalizing a gift, and also found that as a result of not abiding by the recipients' preferences, their gifts were appreciated less often.[8]

An estimated $3.4 billion was spent on unwanted Christmas gifts in the United States in 2017.[9] The day after Christmas is typically the busiest day for returns in countries with large Christmas gift giving traditions.[9][10] The total unredeemed value of gift cards purchased in the U.S. each year is estimated to be about a billion dollars.[7]

In some cases, people know the preferences of recipients very well, and can give highly valued gifts. Some value in gift-giving comes from assisted preference discovery - people receiving gifts they did not know they would like, or which they did not know were available. Behavioral economists propose that the non-material value of gifts lies in strengthening relationships by signalling the giver was thoughtful, or spent time and effort on the gift.[11]

Legal aspects[edit]

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.[12]

Cross border monetary gifts are subject to taxation in both source and destination countries based on the treaty between the two countries.

Religious views[edit]

Lewis Hyde claims 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brigham, John Carl (1986). Social Psychology. p. 322.
  2. ^ Braiker, Harriet B. (2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. McGraw Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-144672-3.
  3. ^ Givi, Julian (2020-09-01). "(Not) giving the same old song and dance: Givers' misguided concerns about thoughtfulness and boringness keep them from repeating gifts". Journal of Business Research. 117: 87–98. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2020.05.023. ISSN 0148-2963. S2CID 219930823.
  4. ^ Reshadi, Farnoush (2023-10-01). "Failing to give the gift of improvement: When and why givers withhold self-improvement gifts". Journal of Business Research. 165: 114031. doi:10.1016/j.jbusres.2023.114031. ISSN 0148-2963. S2CID 258819983.
  5. ^ Reshadi, Farnoush; Givi, Julian; Das, Gopal (May 2023). "Gifting digital versus physical gift cards: How and why givers and recipients have different preferences for a gift card's mode of delivery". Psychology & Marketing. 40 (5): 970–978. doi:10.1002/mar.21790. ISSN 0742-6046. S2CID 255635981.
  6. ^ a b Galak, Jeff; Givi, Julian; Williams, Elanor F. (December 2016). "Why Certain Gifts Are Great to Give but Not to Get: A Framework for Understanding Errors in Gift Giving". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 25 (6): 380–385. doi:10.1177/0963721416656937. ISSN 0963-7214.
  7. ^ a b Lee, Timothy B. (December 21, 2016). "The economic case against Christmas presents". Vox. Retrieved December 5, 2017.
  8. ^ Mendoza, Nohely (December 26, 2017). "New Study Explores Psychology Of Giving Wedding Gifts". Nexstar Broadcasting. Waco, Texas.
  9. ^ a b Mendoza, Nohely. "Biggest return day of the year". Nexstar Broadcasting. Waco, Texas. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  10. ^ Musaddique, Shafi (January 2, 2018). "Unwanted Christmas presents set to rise on busiest day of the year for returns". The Independent. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  11. ^ Jeff Guo (December 19, 2014). "No, Virginia, Christmas is not an 'orgy of wealth destruction'". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ "Gifts and Payments". Washington, D.C.: United States Office of Government Ethics. Archived from the original on September 15, 2020. Retrieved September 19, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of gift at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Gifts at Wikimedia Commons