Whether you’re a tearer, a folder, a scruncher, or a chucker, there’s nothing like opening a wrapped gift that’s especially suited to you.

Amid the hugs and backslaps it’s hard to say who it’s more satisfying for – the giver or the receiver.

But when little Millie gets the new PlayStation while Amir’s staring at his plastic water gun, the thin film of politeness peels away. We don’t just wonder why we have the gifts we do. We wonder how much they cost.

This holiday season, we’re exploring the ethical dimensions of splurging on gifts. Are there unspoken rules for those with deeper pockets? Is it killing the spirit of generosity to peer at the price tag? Or is keeping mum about money letting us pretend we don’t owe things to each other all the time?

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There are so many different kinds of purposes tied to gift giving on Christmas, or any large celebration. We like to think of these sorts of gifts as intrinsically good, making them different from bribes given for personal gain.

For some, gifts are an informal way to foster love and support in mutual relationships. They encourage closeness and dependencies between social circles to reveal links our individualism tends to hide.

They’re known to shape our moral character and encourage selfless generosity, even to remove feelings of emotional debt that have accumulated throughout the year. Though we speak of gifts as just ways to “show love and appreciation”, our reasons are often more layered than that.

This doesn’t have to be self-indulgent navel-gazing. Examining the purpose of a gift matters because it encourages us to consider if that special, one-of-a-kind purchase is the only way to fulfil it. What duties or consequences should you consider before making that jump?


The duties of gifting

If you are feeling the end of year pinch, you have a duty to yourself to make sure the gift giving season doesn’t put you into financial strife. But if that conflicts with the duty to be fair to your friends and family, ask yourself what matters more. After all, gifts are often an exchange, and appreciating someone’s thoughtfulness can come with offering a similarly tasteful gift of your own.

If the gift is for a friend or peer, we might worry about setting an expectation or precedent we can’t fulfil. If it’s for someone who would struggle to fork out a similar amount of money for a gift, would this leave them feeling uncomfortably tied to you? And if you want to spread the holiday cheer, this leaves your pool of lucky recipients fairly limited.

Nor can the growing consciousness around our impact on the environment be ignored. Are these gifts worth the cost to landfills, unethical supply chains, and our collective duty to preserve the health of the land we live on?

But let’s not dwell on the negative. There are heaps of positive consequences too. Don’t forget the good that comes from making the people around you feel extra special and appreciated. If you struggle with miserliness, or excessive penny pinching, this could be a win-win way to encourage generosity in you, and make someone else very happy. It’s always worth thinking of how your actions reflect your character.

When all is said and done, the holidays are a time to rest. The softening pleasures of food, drink, company and play don’t have to get in the way of a well examined life. In fact, slowing down our frenetic, demanding lives to allow time to recuperate may be just what we need most: the modest admission that we cannot do everything perfectly. Good enough is good enough.

That’s the spirit!