This is the season for giving gifts. I always thought that people loved receiving gifts, so I was amused to read this news report about the findings of a recent survey commissioned by online marketplace, Ebay.

“The survey, found that although Australians spent A$8.5 billion ($7.5 billion) buying gifts this Christmas, at least A$1 billion worth of these presents will either be left to gather dust in a cupboard, binned, regifted, exchanged or sold.”

The survey mentioned some hilarious situations like a chicken gifted to a vegetarian, and a dog-bowl given as a gift to a person who did not own a dog!

The results of an earlier survey indicated that more than eight lakh gifts will be thrown into the garbage bin in Australia this Christmas, because “their recipients just hated them“!

Four young women in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, opened a shop a few weeks before Christmas this year , to address this very same problem. There, anyone can exchange a gift which they do not want to keep.

“We set no price on the presents, one can take anything we have in exchange for any present they bring and there is no money involved,” Masa Cvetko, one of the four women, said. “We hope to make people think before giving a gift and make them give presents that mean something, that have a symbolic, personal value.

This really makes us wonder why we give gifts? Because we are expected to do so? Because the person we are giving a gift to will be giving us one?

Sometimes gifts are a way of obliging the recipient in anticipation of some favour.

Even God is given gifts for this reason. Sometimes people give very extravagant gifts- like silver-plated doors for a temple or golden ornaments for the idol.

But does God really prefer such offerings?

I remember a verse which I was taught as a child- the general meaning was that God does not require any patra-pushpa-phala-toyam ( leaves, flowers, fruit or water) for his puja. He only requires that you should have faith in your heart, and his name on your lips. Those are the only gifts that God wants.

When you think about it- the only gifts that are valuable to us are the gifts that mean something. They may be expensive, or they may be of little monetary value. What is important is the thought behind the gift.

I remember a very special gift that I received a few years ago. I had been taking a class once a week for some underprivileged girls in a slum area. We conducted various activities there- yogasanas, discussions on current events, etc. During the summer vacations, some of the girls went to their native villages in Tamil Nadu.

After coming back to Mumbai two of the girls gave me a present they had brought for me- a mirror with a wooden frame and a small drawer. I later learned that the girls had pooled the little money they had been given to spend at a fair near their village, to get me this gift. This mirror is still one of my most prized possessions.

What about you- any memories of special gifts to share?