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Birthday Presents vs Birthday Presence

I turned 25 on Friday. This isn't the obligatory 'getting older' post though, I've long since developed the ability to dissociate the event of birthday with the inevitable march towards death that it usually brings in to sharp focus. This post is about birthday presents; namely are they essential? What are the guidelines?

This was all prompted by an interesting conversation I had with my best mate, who asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I've known him since year 4, and in that time we haven't once exchanged gifts. I said don't be ridiculous, I don't need a gift! His response was 'it's nice to give gifts'. True. It's even nicer to recieve them. Unsurprisingly, the older you get, the less you seem to recieve. This year my loot included some souveneirs my parents brought back from Europe, a prepaid credit card from my sister and cash from my Grandma, as well as a stunning present from my closest friend in the entire world (who, incidentally, is the greatest gift giver I've ever met). Even last year I recieved more. Now this could be a commentary on my social standing amongst my friends, which is a story for another day, but I think the importance of gifts diminishes greatly as you grow.

Should we be giving more gifts? It's true that it is lovely to feel loved on your birthday. An unexpected text from a forgotten friend, a nice message from an acquaintance or a big ticket item from a family member can really lift a persons mood, especially as birthdays can be considered somewhat of an oxymoron for some. Growing old sucks, being showered with well wishes and gifts rules. A bitter sweet day. Back to my mate from year 4. I don't do the whole gift thing with any of my school friends, bar one. I think the guidelines are now set in stone. When we first had birthdays, we didn't have enough money to buy each other gifts, and so this evolved in to a pattern that became pointless to break. Backing this theory up is another group of friends I belong to, some who I met after I turned 20. I am nowhere near as close to them, yet we give christmas and birthday presents to each other every year. Why? We all had disposable income when we met, and so a pattern was established. These particular gifts however are little more than token. They feel less sincere than a thoughtful message from a friend, they feel more like an obligation than a thoughtful gesture. They are usually quite practical; the gift card being the standard, but don't make you feel too warm inside.

So what is the answer? While it is nice to recieve gifts and it makes you feel good to give them, I am not advocating we all go out and start buying everyone in our group of friends elaborate memorials. This will just set a dangerous, socially unpopular precedent and, unless you work for NASA, leave you quite bankrupt. I'm a champion for the more personalised aspect of a birthday. Writing on someone's Facebook wall is fine for 500 of your 525 friends. We all wake up on our special day with four thousand notifications and immediately clear them. I still haven't looked at all of mine, and I only recieved about 30. What is much nicer is a text message (yes, people do still text each other), a facebook inbox message, or better yet a card in the mail. Cheap, thoughtful, nice. You're being thought of. Someone knows you well enough that they sent a letter 2 days in advance of seeing that little notification in the top right of their Facebook feed.

Just remember, it's someone's special day, but it can be a real rough one too. You don't need to brighten it with money (but don't get me wrong, an expensive gift can be overwhelmingly wonderful), a simple gesture is sometimes the perfect tonic to balance that bitterness that can arise.

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