Christmas has many meanings but at its core is the idea of the gift. Growing up in a working-class community that gift was always simple, practical and inexpensive. A pair of socks one year or a pen and pencil set the next.

“It’s the thought that counts,” a defensive aunt would say as she handed out one of those “two for the price of one” handkerchief specials at the local store.

Since my dad was born on December 25, I once wrapped up one sock as his Christmas gift and the other as his birthday gift; he was partly amused. True, as a little boy I used to envy children who got those huge racing tracks with speeding cars or a bright-red bicycle under the Christmas tree. Looking back, however, I learnt some precious lessons about gifting in my parent’s council home.

To begin with, the idea of the gift is a powerful one. It enables us to bless others and in that singular act we take ourselves beyond self-indulgence. But not all giving is the same. When you give only within your family the gift is limited. When you give in a closed circle where the expectation is to receive, that kind of gifting is hardly sacrificial. When you give with the receipt inside the box and the cultural expectation is that you can take the gift back to the store as an exchange, then the act of giving is quite meaningless. When, to the recipient, the commercial value of the gift signals its worth then what is the point? So here are the key lessons I have learnt about gifting growing up. That it is indeed better to give than to receive. Give without the expectation to receive. Give to those who cannot give back. Give anonymously where you can. Give not out of your abundance but give when you have little to give away. Give things you value — not things you have too much of...

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