So do you actually think that gift giving traditions might differ from one country to another or are they pretty much the same? Before we look at it any further, let’s have a small test.
o Pupils in Russia usually bring gifts: candies, books, etc. for their teacher on the first day of school, September-1. – Yes/No
o Family members exchange valuable gifts during Christmas celebration. – Yes/No
o It is normal to celebrate your one’s birthday both at home and with colleagues in the office. – Yes/No
o When meeting close friends or relatives in the airport or at a railway station, Russians bring flowers. – Yes/No
o Men present gifts to women both at work and at home for the 8th of March, International Women’s Day. – Yes/No
o The number of flowers presented to a Russian for a special occasion is inconsequential. – Yes/No
So what is it to present and when is the right time to do so?
8th of March, International Women’s Day is very special for any Russian woman. Men are presenting women with gifts of all types; however, flowers are almost always obligatory. As a rule, not a single lady leaves without a gift as men at work organize small gifts for all ladies in the office, dads buy something special for their daughters, husbands for the wives, etc. Having lived in North America for 7 years now, I still anxiously await this day and always look for a surprise from my sweetheart (I’ll be sure to have him read this article).
New Years along with Christmas are among the most favorite of holidays, but there is no real tradition to exchange valuable gifts. Children are the ones to receive gifts and there are many services with dressed Ded Moroz – Grandfather Frost, Russian Santa Claus, and his granddaughter Snegurochka – Snow Maiden visiting home on New Year’s Eve and congratulating kids.
Recently it became ordinary to give a young couple money in an envelope as a wedding gift. Just keep in mind that when going to a wedding, one needs to think about the gift seriously and make it substantial. The gift registry concept is non-existent in Russia, so talking with newly weds relatives will help to make a more educated decision. Bed linen, silverware sets, dishes, etc. will be some of the appropriate examples for wedding gifts.
As anywhere else, gifts are presented on a birthday, which is often celebrated not only with the family but with colleagues as well. The birthday boy or girl are the ones bringing some teats, wine, appetizers, while others usually collect money and get one substantial gift from the whole group and, as always, flowers!
Russians attitude towards flowers is very special. You might already know that only live flowers can be presented. It is not acceptable to give only one flower, regardless of how beautiful it may be. And always make sure to have an odd number of flowers – usually 3, 5 or 7. Even number of flowers bouquets are taken to funerals only. And don’t forget about the color! Russians are a sentimental and symbolic people: white represents innocence while red symbolizes victory. Yellow flowers are not often to be presented due to the color associated with separation and betrayal.
On the very first day of school, September 01, all pupils in Russia bring flowers for their teachers, which has been a long standing tradition. My friend here in the US had a similar question when sending her 7-year old to school: Do they bring flowers to teachers in the US for the first day of school? She decided to stay away from this Russian tradition and would have stood out to the others as someone attempting to gain influence.
Now let’s look at what can be presented as a gift. Remember a Russian saying “The gift is small, but love is all” meaning that it is not about the value of the gift, but about love, attention, time spent for finding the right gift. Presenting a gift we often say: “I know that you like this particular chocolate/wine/perfume so I decided to get it…” or “I notice how flattering this color is for you, so…” Each gift to a Russian is symbolic and should have some meaning. If you pay attention and continue to think about the person for whom you are buying it, it’ll be perfect whether big or small. Love, attention and warmth from your heart will be the most cherished memory about any gift. Hmmm, perhaps we are all more similar than I first thought…