There are a lot of very nice things about Chinese culture, about traditional cultures… Reciprocity is one of them. In gifting cultures, such as in Chinese culture, gifts come with 3 obligations: the obligation to give, the obligation to receive, and the obligation to reciprocate.
My mother hates the obligations – all three of them. She wants to buy her own sh!t and while she’s very generous about giving sometimes she hates having to be obliged to give someone something just for the sake of bringing a gift, say, to someone’s home when visiting, for example. Above all, she hates having to find a gift to give someone because they gave her something and now she has to ‘return’ the gesture.
Obviously there are downsides to everything, including rituals. But I love gifts, love giving, love getting, and I love love love how thoughtful and punctual my grandmother is about reciprocating. I aspire to being as timely with my gifts. (Hopeless for a flighty nimwit like me but aspirations are nice to have even just to help keep track of which way’s north.)
Why I was thinking about reciprocity: It’s Chinese New Year, I went to wish my grandma a new lunar year filled with good health, good fortune and great happiness. I brought a gift of mandarins as is customary, and also because I knew it would make her smile. It did – and it even made my mom smile, as I brought her a bundle too. My grandma ‘returned’ the gift that same night with a few mandarins (symbolically; I give her a bundle, she only has to symbolically reciprocate a few) along with a token of appreciation in the form of lucky money.
It doesn’t feel like an empty gesture. I enjoyed it. She enjoyed it. I had to explain this all to someone who didn’t understand why she seemed to be “regifting” what I had just given her. I liked explaining. Now I have pretty orange things to put on my dining table.
It wasn’t an empty gesture. It was a loving ritual. Like most things in life, it’s only empty if you don’t put your heart into it.
Happy lunar new year everyone.
I’ve been in hibernation for several months, reflecting on many parts and projects… a new website is coming (s-l-o-w-l-y…) and lots of photos and videos of recent (and not so recent) work. It’s been crazy times. Wish I could ‘fess up & tell you ;)
Maybe one day. Much love. Peace, health, happiness and some serious JOYFUL LAUGHTER.