Wednesday, December 4, 2013

To Tree or not to culture the difference?!

I have a friend who has a love/hate relationship with Christmas. She loves to give gifts but tries to limit them to a certain age range to save money. She abhors receiving gifts because she feels it obligates her to reciprocate whether she can afford it or not. She likes Christmas trees and decorations but hates putting them up and taking them down. If she could, she would go into hiding and opt out of December all together. I am certain that she is not alone in this sentiment.

Holidays can be expensive and stressful, but a few Christmas protocol pointers will help you hang onto your holiday cheer.

What is the protocol for Christmas trees? Ultimately, there is none. Displaying evergreen trees in homes during winter months actually predates Christianity.  But many people think that the Christmas tree originated in America. But in actuality, the oldest record of a decorated Christmas tree is from Strasburg, Germany in 1605 and it was ornamented with apples, nuts, and other edibles! And we don't see a record of a decorated tree in America until 1747, but even then, it was linked to German tradition, as it was displayed in the German Moravian Church's settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. So, whether you display a fully decorated tree or no tree at all is a matter of personal choice. Any religious meaning or protocol attached to it is based on the memories of one’s own ancestral heritage or familial customs.

What is the protocol for decorations? Like the Christmas tree, whether you choose to decorate or not is a personal choice. This is not true, however, when it comes to taking them down. For outdoor decorations, it is a matter of etiquette to put them away shortly after the holidays. Your neighbors should not have to battle wind tossed elves and singing Christmas lights year round.

What is the protocol for gift giving? Gifting is used to celebrate a person, an event or accomplishment, or to commemorate an agreement or occasion. Different regions, countries, and cultures have their own history and significance for Christmas gifts. For example, many American Christians believe Christmas gifts are symbolic of God’s ultimate gift of Jesus to redeem mankind. This follows the tradition of the Magi who brought gifts to commemorate the birth of Christ. Conversely, cultures with different belief systems may assign a dissimilar value to gift giving or choose not to exchange gifts at all.

Regardless of cultural beliefs, the accepted protocol is that when you receive a gift, to offer something in return. However, there are some protocol considerations which are exceptions to this rule.

1.  Some people give “just because” and want nothing in return. If you can't or won't let this act of kindness slip pass without reciprocation, keep a small stash of generic gifts to give in return!

2. Remember that gifts are not tied to price tags! It is bad protocol to assess the value of a gift or to suggest or hint that you are even thinking about it. Conversely, don’t belittle your gift with statements such as “it’s just a little something,” “I didn't have much money,” or worse, “you can return it if you don’t like it”. The last phrase more or less obligates the person to keep the gift to avoid offending you.

3. It is okay to give a gift to one person within a group. Gifts should be given in proportion to the relationship you have with a person. It is awkward and embarrassing to give a gift to people you barely interact with. If you wish to be selective in your gifting, present your gift outside of the group environment. Also, make sure you know the company policy before gifting your co-workers and/or boss. Avoid giving gifts with the company logo if the gift is not from the company as this may be considered poor taste.

4. If you're invited to a private home, good protocol indicates that a small gift is appropriate. But, never ask the host to display or use your gift for the evening’s events. Remember, it is their gift to use or display as they see fit.

5. If you are gifting overseas or to people from a different culture, avoid giving gifts that their country is famous for (ex. beer in Germany or cheese in France). Give items from your culture that conveys thoughtfulness and goodwill without being offensive. Also, be sure to understand the importance that a culture places on specific gifts. Don't assume what is significant to you will carry the same sentiment in another society. If you are presenting a gift to a business associate, research the gift beforehand. If the person is a close friend, consider asking them about their culture's protocols.

6. Finally, visitors to America are briefed that Americans open a gift immediately. However, remember that other traditions or cultures may have different protocols for opening gifts.

I am Pamela Coopwood, and I am “Speaking of Protocol”


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