Return Gifts

Some readers agreed with my views last week on giving and receiving presents while others expressed their reservations. These reservations were related to the difficulty in keeping a count of gifts received, the obligation of having to return the “favor” at a later date, as well as the disharmony that occurs if the giver and taker are not of the same social standing. A few were bothered about gifts they wouldn’t have use for and would then need to recycle – as far as I am concerned, gifts should never be re-gifted, but may be given away to charity or to maids, chauffeurs and the like.
Susan came up with this “…on the other hand, recently, after the wedding of a neighbor, I was given a return gift which took the wind out of my sails completely. Now what do you think of that?”
This got me thinking. Who the hell invented this horrible concept of a return gift?
I’ve seen over the years that when people come home during religious ceremonies or happy occasions like the birth of a child, a small gift of some home-cooked delicacy or sugar or almonds/cashews is typically pressed into their hands as they are leaving. Even this has gone overboard these days, especially during the birth of children/grand-children. Earlier it was just chocolates being sent home, but now elaborate arrangements of flowers and food accompany the announcement, often with a picture of the one-day old, who really looks like any other one-day old in the world at that point in time. A few chocolates are fine, but anything fancier causes quite some discomfort.
But even that is nothing compared to what happens during kids’ birthdays. A few birthdays back, one of my twins’ friends came home and demanded to know before anything else what the return gift was. Kids for their own birthday parties these days spend more time choosing the correct return gift rather than on the party itself and when they come back from these parties, even before you can quiz them about the fun they must have had, they start displaying their return gifts and comparing them with those received during other recent parties. And if the gifts aren’t up to the mark, the kids can be quite cruel.
It’s pretty stupid! Why the hell should there be a return gift for attending a birthday party? In fact, why should there be a return gift for attending anything at all? The social discrepancies that many are worried about as far as receiving and giving gifts are concerned are even more accentuated by this practice. Return gifts can turn out to be an expensive business and clearly can lead to a lot of angst and stress among parents and guardians.
So what is the reason for a return gift? To express pleasure that I came to your party? Why should I be gifted for attending something that I have been invited to? Is it an incentive to make sure I come? Do I really attend an event because of the anticipation of a return gift? I know children who make a big deal of all this. When today’s children grow up, will they start expecting return gifts at every party or event they attend?
I am unable to stop this practice during my kids’ birthdays. But we do take care to make sure that the return gift is not too expensive and does not lead to a “me-too” scenario among their friends. But when it comes to parties that I throw…please don’t ever expect a return gift! Ever!


  • Well,
    Though I’m from a small town of westbengal the best part of my professional life was spent in another small town of Chhattisgadh. There I saw this culture of return gift prevailing since many years. Today my daughter is 18 . During her every birthday, my wife meticulously used to purchase return gifts. The shopkeeper would gift wrap it and would home delivered previous night. Only after coming to Mumbai 7 years ago this has been stopped.
    Needless to say that some of the gifts would find their way to the waste basket while fewer still would recycle while my daughter attending other’s birthday party….

  • When I read this in print yesterday, I was going to ask you how come this was not in my inbox yesterday?
    That means this online edition is working

  • I have a different take on this return gift business, namely we do not know how to handle money when it is in excess or has been earned easily. The newly moneyed class wants acceptance hence lure of return gift to make successful party(well attended)and then to show the money. I was surprised to receive marriage invitation with box of imported chocolates. That is another trend to show off. Wish people would donate money instead in just causes like hospitals and destitute homes.

  • Reema Shukla wrote:

    all blessings are there for the Matunga man from Matunga girl….Prof. Reema Shukla, Biomedical

  • Mukta Prabhu wrote:

    Dear Doctor,
    Sir, it has become a fashion these days to offer return gifts. If there are no return gifts children refuse to attend. At times, gift to a birthday child depends on what return gift he is giving away. This was causing too much a stress to me & 2 years i did not celebrate my kids birthday….such are the days and so is the situation sir….but, i must tell you, very well crafted article…:)

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