I am now approaching the batmitzvah of my eldest daughter and can foresee that this year my family will spend and receive more on gifts than the norm. As such I thought it prudent to write myself a Present-ing Policy. For those of you who have never seen a Present-ing Policy before – neither have I – but I do think that they are circulating around somewhere in most people’s heads – I’m just writing mine down to clarify my thoughts on this important matter.
This policy makes reference to both giving and receiving gifts and applies only to large gathering such as bar/batmitzvahs and weddings herewith known as ‘simchas’. Other Present-ing Policies towards events such as small family gatherings, the birth of a new born baby, end of year teacher gifts won’t follow because the whole thing will just start getting really tedious.
The Present-ing Policy is based on the premise that presence is more important that presents. A guest has been invited to a simcha not merely to make up numbers but because the host really feels that they want them to be part of the affair. A present is just a happy by-product of the occasion.
My policy states that:
- I am anti-reciprocation. There is a feeling that if someone gives a certain present to you (or your family member), by extension you have to give the same value of a gift back at the present-givers simcha. This is not my policy. Reciprocation suggests that present giving is some sort of weird long-term saving device where you spend money every so often in return for getting a lump sum when it’s your simcha. However, there are many reasons – see section entitled ‘Influences on Giving Behaviour’ – where I might decide to give more or less than I (or my family member) has received and I reserve my right to do this.
- I acknowledge that there is a ‘going rate’ for gifts but will try hard not to be pressurised by it. The ‘going rate’ is defined as the amount spent on a gift (including the gift of money) which is considered, by the local population, to be the acceptable rate. To try to ignore the fact that there is a ‘going rate’ is akin to trying to ignore inflation. The price of things over time goes up, and that includes presents. Thus, I recognise that there is a ‘going rate’; I know that I feel compelled to give it, but my policy states that I reserve the right not to give it.
- When giving and receiving gifts and invitations to these events I will encourage gratitude. It really is an honour to be invited to a simcha; it’s an honour to be able to invite someone; an honour to receive a gift and an honour to be able to give one. The problem arises when many invitations/ presents happen at the same time and the matter can get out of hand if the right attitude isn’t projected onto the proceedings – people can become blasé about the whole thing. It’s important to be thankful for each and every invitation and gift, even if, in this atypical year, it all seems to happen at once.
- I will encourage being non-judgemental on the receiving end of gifts. Often Excel spreadsheets (or Google Sheets) entitled ‘Presents’ are drawn up after an affair on the pretext that one can use this resource to write thank you letters and so you know how much to reciprocate if the gift-giver has a simcha. However, what really happens is that the spreadsheet is used as a missile for judgement – ‘Oh, Person X was very generous but Person XY, especially considering their circumstances, was not’ etc etc. As stated above presence is more important than presents and such statements can be counterproductive to the enjoyment of the whole affair.
Influences on Giving Behaviour
As a point of reference here is a list of possible influences of giving behaviour: Number of invitations to simchas received by the gift-giver in given period; income of giver; attitude of giver towards gifts (some just like to give more than others irrespective of income – there’s no right way – different people spend money on different things); perceived ‘going rate’ of gifts (may vary depending on who you ask); gift-giver remembering at the last minute that they have forgotten and they dash to the cashpoint which only has a denomination of notes that means that they can only give more or less than they wanted to. Also, in some circumstances the giver accidentally deletes the spreadsheet listing how much was given to your family member for their simcha and therefore although reciprocation is the aim, it is not possible and a guess has to be made.
NB I reserve the right to not adhere to this policy 100%. Some of it is quite difficult. It should be noted that it is common practice of policy makers not to adhere to all the policies that they create.