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Miss Dora Baggins' Book of Manners  by Dreamflower

 CHAPTER NINE: ON THE GIVING OF GIFTS

The Giving of Gifts is a most important Subject. As every Hobbit should know from the time he or she leaves Faunthood behind, it is far Better to Give than to Receive.

And yet, I may pause here to say a Word on the Receiving of Gifts: a Gift is never to be turned away, whatever the reason. It is a Most Offensive Insult to Refuse a Gift!

For that reason one should always take Care to give Appropriate Gifts. It is most Unkind to give a Gift which the Recipient may find Inappropriate.

A Gift does not--indeed, should not--always be New. It is perfectly Proper to pass along a Mathom of one’s own. However, one should never use the occasion of Gift-giving as an Excuse to Clean Out one’s Mathom Rooms! To give someone an item simply because one does not care for it oneself, or to get rid of it is in very Poor Taste.

Sometimes a Gift is given in Good Humor. As long as these gifts are exchanged Between Friends, and the Joke is Understood, there is noting wrong with doing so. However, such Jokes should not be cruel or Unkind.

One should put care into the choosing of a Gift. A present should show Thoughtfulness on the part of the Giver as to what the Recipient either needs or likes. To pick up just anything, in order to get the task of finding a Gift over with shows a lack of Respect and Esteem for the person for whom it is meant.

TO WHOM DOES ONE GIVE GIFTS?

Although a Gift should always be given Freely, and without a Sense of Obligation, it is quite true that Society expects one to give presents to certain Persons on certain occasions.

It is most certainly Proper to give Gifts to all of one’s Immediate Family--parents, siblings, and grandparents. Beyond that, one usually gives gifts as one Chooses to one’s Uncles, Aunts and Cousins up to and including the fourth degree. However, the burden of such can be Overwhelming. For that reason, Cousins or other Relatives and Connections who live further off should not expect Gifts from one. This has given rise to the Vulgar expression “Twelve Mile Cousin”--which is to say, a Cousin or other Relative who lives further away than twelve miles should feel no Expectation of a Gift, nor feel Offended at the lack of one.

In reality, one may have many Relations who live much further off than Twelve Miles, whom one esteems enough to Give a Gift. And one may have Relations who live in the same town whom one esteems not at all.
Nevertheless, it is as well to make Certain that Family Occasions are not a call for Insult, and make at least a token Gift, even to such Relations as one does not care for.

Gifts are best given in Person, as one is then not at the mercy of the Vagaries of the Post; however, if one wishes to Gift one who lives beyond Twelve Miles, it is as well to do so.

When giving a Gift to a child or tween, this should always be done in the presence of the child’s Parent or Parents. While the child may not Refuse the Gift, the Parent may wish to take it in Hand, if he or she should feel the Child is too young to Properly make Use of the Gift.

In giving Gifts to Friends who are neither Relatives nor Connections, one has a bit more Freedom. However, lads or lasses of Courting Age should be very Careful of What Sorts of Gifts they give, lest a Wrong Impression is made.

Gifts of Food or Flowers are always appropriate from either gender to either gender. A lad may also give a lass a book or a pocket handkerchief, or if he really wishes to Indicate Interest, a Yellow Hair Ribbon. A lass who wishes to let a lad know that he has Engaged Her Interest may choose to give him a Receipt for some dish or other.‡

She should keep in mind, however, that just any Common Receipt will not do, and the mere use of Bay Leaf rather than Thyme in the Soup does not Constitute a Special Receipt! It should either be a Secret Family Reciept or an Original Receipt.

There are many Special Occasions on which the Expectation of Giving is entailed.

NAMING DAY

For a child’s Naming Day, it is usual for the child’s Grandparents to give a Dish or an Eating Implement. Most commonly, the Maternal Grandparents give a Silver Spoon, while the Paternal Grandparents give a Plate or Bowl, often of the appropriate size for a child to eat from once Weaned, and decorated in a manner Pleasing to a Young Child.

Gifts from other Relations or Friends of the Family should be very simple, such as Blankets or Caps, or even Symbolic in Nature. A small box of Salt, for example, for luck, or Flowers according to their Common Meanings. Especially for a lass, it is a nice idea to give her something with either her Namesake Flower or Gem, if she is to be so named. All these Gifts are of course, presented to the Proud Parents, and should be done After the Child’s Name has been inscribed in the Family Book.

THE FIFTH BIRTHDAY

The Fifth Birthday, as has been Described in the Previous Chapter on Childhood, marks an Important Passage in a Child’s Life. The day before the Birthday, he or she should be presented, at either First or Second Breakfast, with Five Gifts, one from each of those who are closest to the Child. Between then and Noon of the Following Day, other Kin or Friends may present gifts for the Child to his or her Parents. This is so the Child will not be Overwhelmed with a Surfeit of Presents, and lose track of the Important Lesson of the Next Day: the Giving of his or her Gifts to others.

It is as well to start as one Means to Go On, and have the Child give most of his or her Presents from among various mathoms, or he or she may gather Flowers, or make some simple Thing, such as a Drawing to give to others.

However, some Parents like to make the Fifth Birthday more Memorable by the giving of Newer Gifts selected by the Parent. It is as well to remember that this should not be a Regular Occurrence in Later Years, or it is likely that the Parent will get a Reputation for Showing Off.

THE GIVING OF BIRTHDAY GIFTS TO THE BYRDING

Gifts given to the byrding should be brought, in person if Possible, on the Day Before the Birthday. By no means should the Gift be Presented after Noon of the Day of the Party, lest they seem to be Payment for Hospitality--a Most Insulting Thing! To do so is in the Worst of Taste!*

Gifts for the byrding most frequently consist of Food: Preserves or Jams, Breads or Cakes, Biscuits or Pastries, are all very welcome. Drink, such as a Bottle of Wine, is also a Nice Gift for the Byrding. However, close Friends or Kin may wish to Gift their Loved One with something more Tangible than Comestibles, and there is certainly nothing Wrong with that!

THE GIVING OF BIRTHDAY GIFTS FROM THE BYRDING

The byrding may choose to give Gifts to his or her closest Family at First or Second Breakfast on the Day, or he or she may choose to wait until the Party.

As to the Gifts for Guests, they may be presented in two different Manners. For an Intimate Party, of Twelve persons or Less, the Gifts may be distributed to the assembled Guests just prior to the Serving of the Birthday Feast.

However, when a Party consists of many Guests, it is more Usual to give each Gift as each Guest arrives, either at the Gate, if the Party is Outdoors, or at the Door if the Party is being held Indoors.

It is Gracious to add a Personal Comment to each Gift, so that the Recipients will know they were considered Carefully in the Selection of the Gift.

WEDDING GIFTS

Let me begin by stating that which Everyone Should Know: It is in the Worst Possible Taste, bordering on the Offensive, to take a Gift to the Wedding!* This should Never be Done! It is in fact, even considered by Many Persons to bring Bad Luck to the Bride and Groom! I would not go so far as to agree with such a Superstition, but it is as Well to Avoid the Possibility!

The only Gifts that may be give At the Wedding are Flowers, which may only be given by Children to the Bride.* This is a charming and sweet Gesture, but should be one Undertaken by the Children themselves, and not at the Instigation of an Adult.

All Wedding Gifts should be delivered Prior to the Wedding. In fact, in most parts of the Shire, the Custom is followed of Sitting for the Gifts: the Bride and Groom abide at the home of the Bride’s family each afternoon during the Week Before the Wedding. At that time, Kin and Friends may call and deliver their Gifts in Person, as well as their Love and Best Wishes to the young couple.

The Gifts may be displayed at that time--there is no Reason save Sheer Ostentation for them to be displayed at the Wedding Itself!

In addition to Gifts given to the Bride and Groom, there are also various traditions in different parts of the Shire.

In Buckland, for example, it is the custom for the Couple who has been Wed the Longest in the hometown of the Newlyweds to be given a Gift from the Bride’s family, as a Token of Appreciation for their Good Example.

In Hobbiton, the Oldest Living Female Relative of the Bride always gives a Gift of Apples, no matter what other Gift she may Present.

And in Tookland among the Tooks, the Groom often distributes Alms to the Poorer Folk after the Wedding.

In the Northfarthing, I have been told, it is the Custom for the Parents of the Couple to Gift them with two trees, one from the Family of the Bride, and one from the Family of the Groom. These trees are to be planted side by side, in the Garden of the Newlyweds’ home, and encouraged to grow ever after, Twined together into One.

YULE GIFTS

On First Yule, it is Usual for one to give Gifts to close Family. Unlike other occasions, on Yule it is not unusual to give New Gifts, in commemoration of the Coming Year. And Children are frequently given special Treats of Sweets, Nuts, and small Toys.

On Second Yule one gives Gifts to Friends and, if one has them, Servants.

Except for the Gifts to Children, Yule gifts are most often Items of Necessity, such as Mittens or Scarves or such.

QUESTIONS OFTEN ASKED ABOUT THE GIVING OF GIFTS:

What if it truly is not possible to bring the Gift Ahead of time, to the Byrding or to the Betrothed Couple?

This situation comes up more often than one might Think. If, for example one Trusts to the Post, it may not be delivered in a Timely Fashion. In that case, the Bride’s family should Receive the Gift and set it aside for at least a Fortnight before giving it to the young Couple.

Likewise, if one is prevented from taking one’s Presents while the Couple is Sitting for their Gifts, then one should by no means bring it to the Wedding, but wait that same Fortnight before paying a call and giving them the Gift.

In the case of a Birthday, one need only to wait until the Day After the Party to Present a Late Gift.

Is it all right to Give a Gift given one by Another?

Most certainly one may! One should of course, keep a gift a decent amount of time--at least six months in the case of Birthday Gifts and at least a Year in the case of Wedding Gifts, before Passing them on to Someone Else who might Appreciate them more.

One should take care however, Not to give such a gift back to the original Giver!

What are other occasions one might find for the Giving of Gifts?

The Giving of Gifts is a Delight, and in reality needs no Excuse. However, many people like to mark Special Occasions with Gifts to Family or Friends--such Occasions might be at a Farewell, when one is going Away for an Extended Time. Or one may wish to Gift an Honored Guest on his or her Arrival.

If one has Travelled to other Parts of the Shire, one may wish to bring back to one’s close Family mementoes of the Places one Visits.

IN CONCLUSION

There are Many and Varied Occasions when one may give Gifts to Others. This is something to be greatly Anticipated. There is nothing quite like the look of Pleasure and Delight when a Loved One opens a Carefully and Thoughtfully Chosen Gift!


______________________________________________
‡ The idea of recipes being a courtship gift comes from Larner’s story “Of Courtship Rituals and Wizards” found in her anthology “Moments in Time” on Stories of Arda.

* All the ideas so marked come directly from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien Letter #214





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