Why not to look a gift horse in the mouth

Birthdays and holidays when I was small were times for presents. One thing I learned quickly, however, was, like Animal Farm, some people were more equal than others when it came to the gifts they received. Kids got noisy, shiny, interesting things you could move, tinker, manipulate or fantasize with. Move up the age spectrum and the goodies got less impressive. Books, recordings and clothing constituted the bulk with occasional jewelry or kitchen appliances thrown in to relieve the tedium.

The worst, most pathetic offerings had to be to grandparents. They’d sit nearly immobile in overstuffed chairs, a small smile plastered across their lips, pathetically grateful for whatever disgusting trinket came their way. Their tiny pile of gifts contained smelly, boring items that deserved to be thrown in the trash as soon as they got home. I wondered how they could use ten bottles of scented lotion, four boxes of scented powder, and seven bottles of scent. Pity always filled me, and I dreaded the day I’d be a grandparent.

Well, here I am. And, yes, I’ve begun to receive those dreaded items, but now I think they’re not so bad. Why is that? Because I already have nearly everything I want, and virtually everything I need. Even art, which I love, or handmade crafts, which always impress me, I no longer am tempted by. Yet I know that formalized occasions include acknowledgement of close relationships of all types.

So there must exist a socially acceptable method to accomplish this. Hence gifts.

Also hence the prohibition against looking too closely at the offerings. If we examine a goody intently, we may decide we don’t care for it. Or it’s too big. Or the wrong color. Or not our style. Better to simply offer a gracious acknowledgement.

Logically if there’s a gift receiver, there’s also a gift giver. We don’t want to offend these friends, relatives, associates, so don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. When given a horse, it would be bad manners to inspect the horse’s mouth to see if it has bad teeth. This can be applied as an analogy to any gift: Don’t inspect it to make sure it matches some standard you have, just be grateful! Irrelevant what the gift is, as long as people give and receive appropriately.

After a party or holiday, kids always race toward their friends to ask, what did you get? They provide a list of their booty and compare the loot with their friends. As we approach adulthood, we discover it’s more fun, as well as blessed, to give as well as receive. Most of us stop keeping score. And as the years go by, the loot is less and less important.

So how do you know you’ve reached the age of awareness? You start getting consumables. If your parties feature candy, coffee, tea, flower (potted or bouquets), perfume, powder, lotion, cookies, popcorn, baking kits for bread, you’re pretty much past the excitement of surprise. Rest content. All of these can be used up or given to grateful friends or service organization raffles. You won’t have to find storage space, and you’ll provide joy to the givers.