Gift traditions and etiquette

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There are gifts involved in almost every celebration throughout your life, be it a personal, cultural or religious event. The rules are also almost always different and vary from celebration to celebration, culture to culture and even family to family. Sometimes there are stricter guidelines than others and sometimes certain gifts can even be considered rude or unlucky!

Bar/bat mitzvah:

Firstly this is a once in a lifetime event, not annual like many other celebrations we will cover, so this gravitas should be taken into account. Secondly the recipient of this gift will always be 13 years old, this is also an unusual constant as not a lot of celebrations (other than specific birthdays) will follow this rule. The most traditional and easiest bar mitzvah gift is, unsurprisingly, money and the amount is usually given in multiples of 18. This is symbolic of the Hebrew word for life which is “chai”, the two Hebrew letters that make up the word “chai” are “chet”, equivalent to the number eight, and “yud”, equivalent to the number ten, which together make up 18. Giving money in multiples of 18 is giving the gift of life and common when you want to wish longevity while celebrating a birth, bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding. Other appropriate gifts include traditional Jewish ritual objects like Shabbat candlesticks, Hanukkah menorah, Mezuzahs and Tzedakah boxes, jewellery and Torah artwork.

Chinese New Year:

As a superstitious race there are many rules to consider when gifting for Chinese New Year, and many pitfalls to avoid. Most people will give money in envelopes, but it is not as simple as putting a few notes in an envelope you found on your desk. The colours white, black and blue should be avoided because they are associated with death and funerals so when you choose your envelope, wrapping paper or gift bag it should be gold, yellow or, most commonly, red. These colours symbolise wealth and prosperity for the year ahead. The number four is considered extremely unlucky in China because the pronunciation sounds very similar to the word death, so amounts with a four like 4, 24, 40, 400 etc. are ruled out and this also applies to gifts that would come in sets. However even numbers are otherwise preferred and the number eight is the luckiest in Chinese culture so 88 is an ideal amount to give. Etiquette dictates that gifts should always be given with two hands, if giving money the notes should be crisp and new, never expect someone to open a gift in front of you, and always present your gifts starting from eldest to youngest. You must also be careful, when in a workplace, that you do not give more to your staff than your superior gives to you and you can expect a higher sum from your boss than you gave to your employees or people who you manage.

Turkish wedding:

A Turkish wedding is a big event and comes with its own set of intriguing rituals and gift etiquette. A Turkish bride would traditionally be expected to provide a çeyiz, or dowry, which is gifted to the household and consists of home-ware items such as linens, plates, appliances or even a car or house!  Another long standing Turkish wedding tradition is presenting the newlyweds with gold coins in sizes ranging from small to large; a small coin is known as a çeyrek or quarter, a medium is a yarım or half and a large coin is a tam or full. The coin’s size will be a direct representation of the relationship between the guest and the bride and groom, so if you give a small coin then you may be a distant relative or acquaintance, a medium coin would represent a more important relationship and a large coin would be given by a close relative or old friend. The coin would be given to the bride, put in a special bag or sometimes placed on her dress. It is believed a gold coin is given because the precious metal is a stable commodity and its value will not waver like currency does. Historically Turkish people have favoured gold as an investment over money and many banks even offer gold investment funds, particularly in more rural areas of the country.


There’s no way you can write a blog about gift giving without mentioning Christmas and while, usually, anything goes at this festival there are some unusual gifting traditions that may come as a surprise. You may be aware of the traditional orange in the bottom of a stocking hung out on Christmas Eve. This is a tradition dating back to when exotic fruits from overseas where a luxury item and an orange or Satsuma was considered a great treat that you would probably only be lucky enough to eat once a year.  Another legendary, but perhaps much less desirable, Christmas gift is that of a lump of coal given to naughty children. The tradition behind this is thought to be that it is an undesirable replacement of a gift of toys or sweets that a child would be disappointed with and encourage them to be good until the next year. Bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, an onion or, in The Netherlands, a potato have also been left in the naughty child’s stocking depending on the countries traditional Christmas figurehead. It is thought that coal has been the most remembered because Santa comes down the chimney and would just pick up a lump of coal from the fireplace rather than leaving a gift.

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