Sociological rules of Christmas gift giving

Sociological rules of Christmas gift giving December 20, 2011

Sociologists will an analyze anything people do, no matter how taken-for-granted the activity. ( I suppose that’s why I like it so much–always trying to look at things a new way). For the season, here is an except about from the famous “Middletown” study. Theodore Caplow, and a team of researchers, studied people in Muncie, Indiana (1979) about their gift giving, and they came up with nine unwritten rules for gift giving.

1) The Tree Rule. Married couples with children of any age should put up Christmas trees in their home. Unmarried persons with no living children should not put up Christmas trees. Unmarried parents (widowed, divorced or adoptive) may put up trees but are not required to do so.

2) The Wrapping Rule. Christmas gifts must be wrapped before they are presented.

3) The Decoration Rule. Any room where Christmas gifts are distributed should be decorated by affixing Christmas emblems to the walls, the ceiling, or the furniture.

4) The Gathering Rule. Christmas gifts should be distributed at gatherings where every person gives and receives gifts.

5) Money is an appropriate gift from senior to junior family members, but an inappropriate gift from junior to senior kin, regardless of the relative affluence of the the parties.

6) Family gatherings at which gifts are distributed include a “traditional Christmas dinner.”

7) The Gift Selection Rules. A Christmas gift should :
a) demonstrate the giver’s familiarity with the receiver’s preferences
b) surprise the receiver, either by expressing more affection–measured by the aesthetic or practical value of the gift–than the receiver might reasonably anticipate or more knowledge than the giver might reasonably be expected to have
c) be scaled in economic value to the emotional value of the relationship

8) The Scaling Rules. In terms of the value of gifts:
a) A spousal relationship should be more valuable than any other for both husband and wife, but the husband may set a higher value on it than the wife.
b) The parent-child relationship should be less valuable than a spousal relationship but more valuable than any other relationship. The parent may set a higher value on it than the child does.
c) The spouse of a married close relative should be valued as much as the linking relative
d) Parents with several children should value them equally

9) The Reciprocity Rule. Participants in this gift system should give at least one Christmas gift every year to their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters; to the current spouses of these persons; and to their own spouses.

Remember to follow these rules carefully so that no one gets hurt.


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  • That was good. See also:

    I wonder most about the spouse rule as me and my wife and my parents and grandparents and my wife’s were not great at getting gifts for their spouses.

    I wonder too about the “happiness” rule that I have heard about the best use of money is to spend your money on “experiences” rather than “things” as experiences get better with time (you forget the bad aspects and remember the funny parts) and things degrade.

    See also this:

    Is It Irrational To Give Holiday Gifts?
    Dan Ariely on tips from behavioral economics for picking presents that please—and make you look good
    DECEMBER 17, 2011

  • I like how number 8 became a smiley face. 🙂

  • I see that! I like it. 🙂 Anything that adds a smile to the day is good stuff. 🙂