The True Meaning of Gift Giving in 2020: Connecting Cultures and People in Times We Need It the Most

What’s more important than the price tag and hurdles of attaining gifts is the meaning behind them and the exchange of love.

By Liz V.


2020 has been a wild ride to say the least, on all facets of humanity and globally. People have been stripped of normality and are forced to focus on what truly matters; so why not the same approach be applied to gift giving? Even though we collectively face a pandemic, unemployment, and movements across the world, people still feel pressured to live up to prior expectations of holiday planning and presents from the conditioning of societies that centers on consumerism.

gift giving - love
Photo by Lina Trochez

With people’s needs being different at this time, we are called to remember the true essence of exchanging gifts; and how we can best show up for each other in times we need it the most.

The notion of the true meaning of gift-giving was prompted when I recently participated in a call to action for the Kumeyaay. The Kumeyaay are the Native People of lands encompassing what is currently known as San Diego, USA; and the northern area of Baja California, México. They, and several Indigenous tribes, have been committed to halting construction that affects the lives of their people and natural resources; and is desecrating ancestral burial sites and sacred lands. This construction bypassed consultation of the tribes, and these Tribal Nations have asked for support in helping to protect these sites and future sites from further destruction.

The specific call to action that I participated in occurred after their injunction was denied until their next court hearing. The Kumeyaay requested allies to come to the sacred sites to support their protection and join them in ceremonial prayer. Since it was my first time visiting, instinctually I was moved to bring an offering in respect to their people, the land, and their ancestors. This custom was inspired by people who brought hoʻokupu to Mauna Kea in solidarity of the Kū Kiaʻi Mauna movement; and it felt appropriate to present this offering in the form of an atang (a traditional food offering to the deceased) rooted in my Ilocano heritage. When asked if this presentation would be respectful of their protocol, the Kumeyaay spokesperson I consulted with welcomed this gesture, saying that “any offering from the heart is a great offering”. 

gift giving - love
Photo by Jamez Picard

In this act alone, we find similarities in three different cultures; the most prominent being that these intentional gifts are centered in love.

Meaningful offerings and gifts don’t only occur in ceremonies. They also occur in everyday deeds, which have increased in response to the crises we currently face. People are supporting each other’s businesses more; neighbors are sharing food from their respective cultures to one another in their communities; and there are several moments of humanity coming together to provide for needs; such as donating school supplies for students whose guardians have been financially-affected by the pandemic.

The other day, a store cashier gave her own personal face shield to my grandmother since she couldn’t find one to purchase and it was a requirement for her to fly back to her home. This good Samaritan’s generosity displayed a literal parallel of “taking one’s shirt off their back for another”; where she gave what she had to help someone. We see more and more of this presently as we navigate through these times together.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re financially-strained right now; and don’t need to be bought in crowded places since health safety is a priority.

gift giving - love
Photo by Bart LaRue

What’s more important than the price tag and hurdles of attaining gifts is the meaning behind them and the exchange of love.

In essence of the act, people often feel excited to know you care about them and are thinking about them. Meaningful gifts help bring people closer together. Next time you celebrate a special occasion in this season of giving, remember that whether it’s showing up in solidarity of a movement; sending a message or calling a loved one; or giving a gift from what you have and can uniquely bring to another; that these are all opportunities for true connection in moments we need it the most.

Header: Emily Shirron

1 thought on “The True Meaning of Gift Giving in 2020: Connecting Cultures and People in Times We Need It the Most

  1. Hi Liz! Congrats on the article! I just wanted to share my personal experience with gift giving. Honestly, I hate Christmas shopping. It’s so stressful and it’s not something I enjoy. I feel like I am the worst gift-giver and receiver in the world. I get caught up in trying to figure out what sort of material things I should get for my loved ones and whether or not they would appreciate its value. Whenever I receive a gift, I feel obligated to get the giver something of equal or greater value at the next birthday or holiday. It gets to the point wear I’ve even given someone grief over an expensive gift and we both ended up feeling terrible. I’m glad you shared your story. I feel relieved knowing that a gift doesn’t need to be extravagant. It can be as simple as showing up and that it comes from the heart. The next time I go gift shopping, I will try to go with a positive attitude from a place of love.

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