On Chanukah, gift-giving is not required but in many Jewish communities it has become an unofficial custom. There can be tremendous pressure to buy the perfect Chanukah gift, something that, when unwrapped, will cause shrieks of satisfaction. If a gift falls flat, shrieking of another variety will ensue, the kind that can echo for a lifetime. Of course, the success of the gift depends in part on the recipient. For example, voracious readers will welcome a book, but those who are essentially illiterate-by-choice might angrily throw the book at you in utter disgust, so be sure to choose paperback over hardcover.
There are no hard and fast rules specifically for presenting a present on Chanukah just like there are no hard and fast rules for sponsoring a kiddush, giving a d’var Torah or lifting someone up in a chair at a wedding. In each case, however, the goal is to increase the recipient’s happiness and, if you fail in this regard, the results can be rather serious. For instance, if you sponsor a lame and unappetizing kiddush, you might be socially ostracized. If you deliver a boring and uninspired d’var Torah, you might be congregationally shunned. If you drop a bride during a wedding chair lift, you might be charged with assault and battery.
Along the same lines, if you give someone a weak and thoughtless gift, you might be emotionally excommunicated. To avoid this unfortunate fate, follow this tried and tested approach applicable to all forms of gift-giving:
1. Size Matters: If you are buying someone an article of clothing, be sure to purchase the correct size. When in doubt, always purchase a larger size for kids because they hopefully will grow into it: “Thank you for giving Donny a birthday present. He’s only 4-years old but this adult-sized XXL sweatshirt should fit him when he returns from his yeshiva gap-year, Shana Gimmel.” Conversely, always purchase a smaller size for adults because of the implications: “I cannot possibly fit into a size small. I can’t even try it on. But the fact that you think that I’m a size small makes me love you more than ever and is the greatest gift of all.”
2. The Thought Does Not Count: Gift-giving is about results, not intentions, so do not rest on your laurels simply because, in your view, your heart was in the right place. Nobody cares about your thought process, least of all the gift recipient: “I know that you are strapped for cash so you could not afford to buy me something made out of real gold, but buying me a box of Golden Grahams cereal is super insulting.”
3. No Strings Attached: Do not buy a gift that is contingent on the recipient spending their own money to access or enjoy the gift. Conditional gifts are not really gifts; they are annoying burdens: “Well, thank you for the photo session at the summit of Mount Everest. Now I just need to spend about two months and $50,000 to make the climb. What are you going to get me next year, tennis lessons on Mars?”
4 Avoid Self-Service: If you buy someone a gift that is actually designed to meet your own needs or desires, then you have missed the point entirely. A present should be selected solely for others, not for yourself: “I know you love Florida and the warm weather so I got us two tickets to Orlando... for the 4-day, indoor Star Wars Convention! Plus, I got you a movie-quality Jabba the Hutt costume so you will be quite a hit! Of course, I will be dressed as a Jedi but don’t worry, Jabba is not a Sith so we can mingle together without causing a disturbance in the force!”
5. Err with Overspending: When in doubt and if at all possible, purchase the more expensive gift with the higher-end label and the latest model. Do not skimp with inferior brands or outdated iterations because the recipient will take offense: “You know that I wanted the newest Xbox for video-gaming so how could you possibly think I’d be happy with the dinosaurian Atari 2600? And, adding insult to injury, you didn’t even get me the best Atari games like Space Invaders, Frogger and Donkey Kong. Worst of all, you got me Racquetball, Skeet Shoot and Dancing Plates, which might be the worst Atari games of all-time! Is this really a gift or is it a bizarre form of hate mail?”
Final thought: When it comes to receiving a gift, never look a gift horse in the mouth and never leave a Trojan horse unmonitored.
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