Unique Gift Giving Traditions from Around the World
Whether for a special holiday, as a token of gratitude or just a way of letting someone know you care, gift giving is a universal custom. Though the intent may be similar from place to place, traditions vary widely from one country to the next. A gesture that conveys respect in one place might be considered offensive somewhere else. Take a look at our list of unique gifting traditions from around the world.
In Europe, don’t accidentally cut yourself out of someone’s life.
Here in the U.S., a set of kitchen knives seems like the perfect gift idea for a wedding or holiday. However, in certain European countries like Germany, superstition dictates that a knife presented as a gift will sever your friendship. There is a way to beat this superstition: Tie a penny to the knife or gift box. The receiver then returns the penny to you as a “payment” to nullify the bad luck.
In Britain, diamonds are 60th wedding anniversary gifts.
Lottery tickets are bought and exchanged here more than they are anywhere else in the world, and often make a suitable birthday gift. Though diamonds originally symbolised 75 years of married life in the UK, they are now associated with 60, as Victoria’s 60 years on the throne marked her Jubilee.
At an Italian wedding, buy yourself a piece of the tie.
There’s a well-known Italian wedding tradition where the groom’s tie is cut into a number of tiny pieces. Wedding guests can then “buy” these tie slices in exchange for cash. It’s a fun way to give money to the bride and groom that leaves guests with a wedding souvenir. In addition to a visit from Santa, Italian kids have their stockings filled by a fallacious witch at the end of Epiphany on January 6. Interestingly, gifts are not exchanged between or within companies, as the act is deemed a little tacky.
In Russia, Vodka is not a desirable gift.
Due to the way Russia was governed during the Soviet era, Russians celebrate New Year with more gusto than they do at Christmas. While Vodka might seem the most suitable gift for a Russian, a lot of them would see it as an unimaginative gesture. Many even perceive the notion as insulting.
In Israel, nobody’s giving or receiving gifts.
Despite the kind gesture, thank you cards and notes are not a common part of the gifting custom in Israel. Contrary to the way American Jews exchange gifts during Hanukkah, those from or residing in Israel won’t typically receive gifts from one another.
In Native America, your host gives gifts rather than receive them.
Native American gifting etiquette is exactly the opposite to that of any other culture. Traditionally during weddings and powwow celebrations (birthdays aren’t always recognised), guests are the receivers of gifts rather than whomever the host may be.
In Japan, presentation is paramount.
The Japanese place a great emphasis on the act of gift giving (it’s not unheard of to send a thank-you gift for a thank-you gift), and presentation plays a big role in determining how your gift is received. For example, it’s considered distasteful to hand off uncovered cash. So whether you’re sending money as a gift or just leaving a tip, place your money in an envelope to ensure it’s received in a respectful manner. It’s also customary to place a tight decorative knot on a wedding gift envelope, since folklore dictates that the envelope should be “impossible to open.”
In China, red envelopes and even denominations bring good luck.
Chinese New Year has a rich set of traditions. One of the most popular customs of this holiday is giving out money in red envelopes. Known as “yasuiqian” which means “the money used to suppress the evil spirit,” these gifts are meant to bring good luck. In addition to how you give money, there’s also superstition around the amount you give. Gifting an odd numbered amount of money is associated with the “baijin,” gifts given during funerals, and is considered bad luck. It’s important to make sure that even the first digit is even, as numbers like 30 and 50 are considered odd.
In India, gifts are given with the right hand.
As left hands are considered unclean in Indian culture, gestures such as touching, passing money, or giving gifts are to be done with the right hand. Contrary to some other cultures, an odd number of objects or currency denotes good luck. For example, £11 should be given as opposed to £10.
In South America, sharp objects are unlucky.
The majority of people from South American countries will see the offering of sharp objects as a sign that you want the relationship with them severed, so scissors and cooking knives are best avoided. On the eve of January 6 at the end of the Christmas period, Argentinian children will customarily leave their shoes by their beds to be filled with small gifts. Meanwhile in Brazil, seaside settlements will send gifts of f lowers, fruits or jewellery out to sea to honour the Goddess of Water.
In Trinidad and Tobago, nobody’s too young for a gift.
In Trinidad & Tobago, it’s customary to celebrate the birth of a newborn baby by placing money in its hand. This gesture conveys best wishes for the child’s healthy and prosperous upbringing.
In Zimbabwe, a dance can speak a thousand words.
In Zimbabwe, it is not uncommon to be directly asked for a gift. When one has been bought even without requesting it, the worst you can do is to refuse the offering, even if the family giving is starving. Also, gestures of thanks are preferred over verbal reciprocation. These may include jumping up and down, dancing, or whistling.