By Suzie Gibson
The anxiety attached to gift giving is worth considering.
The Christian commemoration of Christmas is about celebrating God’s ultimate gift, his only son. Such an exceptional gift reaches its destiny in the crucifixion of Jesus: a sacrifice that can never be acquitted. The extraordinary nature of this gift, which ends in death, is resonant of a debt economy.
Capitalism is sustained through a debt economy of profits and arrears that spin endlessly in keeping the many beholden and the few prosperous.
During the festive season, it is clear that the sacred and the secular share an unholy alliance through their generation of a gift economy that leads to indebtedness. If we think of Christ as a gift, the opportunity for reimbursement is slight. Mortals cannot match the divine offering, only revere and give thanks to it.
The secular gift also poses problems, for we are inclined through politeness to return in equal measure the kind of generosity shown to us. This brings to mind Søren Kierkegaard’s insightful claim in Fear and Trembling (1843) that it is far more difficult to receive than to give.
One might wonder then if the true gift exists? That is, a gift which does not make us feel indebted, beholden, or, dare I say, even guilty?
Perhaps a better way of approaching this question is to consider the great work of philanthropic charities – both religious and otherwise – that try to address social and economic inequality.