Presents in Russia are generally a
thing intended to be shrouded in mystery and surprise. In America, it is not
uncommon to simply request what you want from family or friends and to receive
it without ceremony. This is unthinkable in our tradition. It is a vital
element of the present that it is picked out by the person giving it, that it is
sincere and comes from the heart. It is also important to be surprised; advance
knowledge of your present defeats the entire purpose. Presents are generally
things of quality but modest in quantity; it would be considered extremely poor
form to have a "wish list" or a "Christmas list" or
something so pretentious. Likewise, giving money would be regarded as very
blunt, offensive and unrefined. Simply giving someone the means to buy
themselves a present is contrary to the entire purpose.
This is not to say that the giver of
the present should ignore the apparent wishes of the receiver and get him
something totally random. On the contrary, the point is to get someone you love
what they want. If you are a parent, perhaps you overheard your son or daughter
talking once about something they wish they had. You should keep this in mind
for a present. The point is for this to happen by implied understanding, and
not by explicit request. It should be a surprise, and should be given based on
an earnest desire to please.
It is also a matter of principle
that presents retain a fog of mystery. That is to say, it is inappropriate to
inquire as to when, where and how your present was obtained, before or after
receiving it. It is also forbidden to ask about the price; if by chance there
is a price sticker that the giver neglected to remove, you should throw it away
promptly and act as though you never saw it. These things simply don't matter.
In fact, not only is it a matter of ethics, but seeking information about
presents is regarded by many superstitious people as inviting bad luck. The
less you know, the better and the more magical it is.
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