The Language of Gifts…

I love presents. All presents–not just presents for me. And I love giving gifts as much as I like receiving them, but I’m a terrible giver because I get too excited and usually end up giving the gift (or giving the surprise away) long before the event. I can’t even Christmas shop early because I’ll give everything away long before Advent even begins and have to re-buy everything. My own daughter has to discipline me around her birthday to “just wait for the actual day oKAY?

Whenever I’m at a birthday party and there’s a big stack of presents for the birthday person, I can barely contain myself as I wait for the unveiling of the gifts. I’m particularly bad at children’s birthday parties because the pile of gifts is always spectacular.

Buying gifts for adults is always fraught, however.

I’ve always thought that, as adults, the exchanging of gifts is a kind of language; thus, exchanging gifts with another adult person is a serious (and laden) thing. The giving of a gift can be a lovely expression of celebration or devotion or gratitude, but the giving of a gift can also convey something else. And, no matter what, it’s a form of communication…a language of its own.

I once had a friend who, in the early days of our relationship, gave me incredibly extravagant gifts. We happened to be training for a marathon together, so the two of us would often browse running gear together. Days later, she would invariably present me with various things I’d admired in the store–things more expensive than I would ever buy for myself–a seventy-five-dollar pair of shorts….a hundred-and-thirty-dollar running jacket. I was so confused because I didn’t think we were good enough friends to warrant such extravagance. Meanwhile, our friend, Betty, would joke about what a bad gift-giver our mutual friend was: she once gave Betty’s son (for his birthday) a mini Frisbee that came free in a box of cereal. I was puzzled by the disconnect: why did I receive the extravagant gifts while Betty, her (clearly) more established friend, received the crappy gifts? The answer became clear when she started giving me used books as gifts and I realized that I’d now become the “established” friend and the extravagant gifts of seduction were no longer necessary. Sometimes, the language of gifts is subtle, but sometimes it’s loud and clear.

And some people have a knack for things. My friend, Susan, has this knack: whenever you go to her home for a meal, her table is covered with all kinds of  little delicacies in exotic little containers, each of which is unique and beautiful–a beautifully patterned china plate….an exquisitely tiny glass bowl with a little silver spoon. Whenever you receive a gift from a person with this knack for things, it’s invariably perfect. The last time she was over, she brought me this lovely little 4-inch square tile:


One of my favourite gifts of all time was a very old brass cigarette case with the Taj Mahal etched on the front. A friend (who also possessed this knack for things) found it in a junk shop in London and gave it to me when I was seventeen. I used it as a wallet for twenty-five years…and would likely still be using it if Em hadn’t knicked it.

My sister-in-law, Doran, has this double-whammy quality–that is, an eye for things and a knack for gift giving: she just seems to know what will resonate with you. And her gifts come out of the blue (which is the best way of receiving things): a vintage silver pipe cleaner (for James); a mobile from the family cottage, an antique brass ship that lights the room with a red glow, a calendar of her amazing aerial photographs, a beautiful wooden bowl…


…and today…a couple of jars of her homemade maple syrup:


Now I love me some maple syrup–as you may have gathered from my posts, I use it almost daily in various recipes that call for some form of sugar: Brown sugar? Replace it with maple syrup! Honey? Replace it with maple syrup! Maple syrup? Replace it with….well, you get the idea.

Anyway, I always have an opened jug in my fridge and an extra in my pantry, so receiving two mason jars of delicious syrup lovingly hand-tapped by Doran from a maple tree on her farm delighted us both more than you can imagine! The golden one is “for good,” and the dark is apparently “for cooking,” but they’ll both be used sparingly because this artisanal syrup is the nectar of the gods. Indeed, I’m so parsimonious with this stuff that I made our last little jar last six months!

And the song of the day is, of COURSE….

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