Gift Giving Superstitions: What Not To Give People Who Respect Their Culture's Traditions

There are a lot of rules around sharp objects and time-telling devices.

Selecting gifts for your loved ones is one of the best parts of the holidays — but it can also be one of the most stressful. Adding in superstitions and regional traditions to your decision-making process is sure to complicate matters, but it can also show the recipient your awareness of the particular cultural mores they may follow when it comes to giving and receiving presents.

Some superstitions around gift giving are found all over the world, in diverse cultures. There are a lot of rules around sharp objects and time-telling devices, for example, that show up in places such as Italy and China. Other traditions around gift giving are more specific, tied to lucky numbers in a region or religion, or stemming from other cultural or religious rules. (Don't gift a Hindu with a leather wallet, for example.)

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It might seem silly, in some cases, to pay attention to these rules — especially when they don't stem from religious or cultural tradition and are based on nothing but superstition. But the point of giving a gift is to make your recipient feel valued and to let them know you thought of them.

So if the recipient is of the superstitious variety, why not display a little extra care in selecting a present that won't suggest something you didn't intend?

Here are seven superstitions and traditions around gift giving to keep in mind this holiday season.

No sharp objects

There are several places around the world where giving a sharp object, like a knife, is bad gift etiquette because it implies bad luck or a severing of the relationship. Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, and Egypt are a few of the diverse places where this tradition holds.

But a good-quality knife is a pretty useful gift, so here's a way around it: tape a coin to the knife, which the giver can then offer back to you as "payment" for it. Then it's not a gift at all!

Don't give empty wallets

If you give a gift of a purse or a wallet, superstition holds that you should include some money in it — even a coin — to ensure good luck for the recipient. This tradition is observed in Italy, the home of many lovely leather purses and wallets, so it makes sense that a way around the rule was devised.

Mirrors might be spooky

In Chinese and other Asian cultures, mirrors are thought to attract negative ghosts — -and therefore, giving a mirror could cause changes for the worse in the recipient's life. And of course, if the mirror breaks — either before it's gifted or afterwards — that's seven years of bad luck! Not something you want on your conscience.

Pass on the gloves

A beautiful pair of gloves seems like a great Christmas gift idea, especially here in Canada, but some may take it as an omen of bad luck. Apparently the association between gloves and bad luck goes back to medieval times, when knights wore a beloved lady's glove in their helmets.

Say no to clocks or watches

Some people believe that giving a watch or clock as a gift implies that the time is running out on your relationship. In China, for example, clocks have an unlucky association with death and therefore should be avoided as gifts.

Stay away from bad numbers

Different numbers represent different things in other parts of the world, just as the number 13 is seen as unlucky in North America. In China, the number four is considered unlucky because it sounds similar to the word for death, so giving a gift with a group of four would be a no-no. And in Japan, the number nine sounds similar to the word for torture, and is also avoided.

And avoid even numbers

In some countries, including India, gifts of money should be given in odd numbers — for example, $101 instead of $100. In Judaism, odd numbers are also considered luckier than even ones. One exception to this is 18, or chai — the number is seen as lucky and gifts are often given in multiples of 18.


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