Decorated paper, a glitter pen, and a carefully wrapped envelope. As every year, a few days before the Christmas holidays, Jeannette carefully prepares the New Year’s gifts that she will place at the foot of the Christmas tree. A note “More or less consistent” depending on the age of his grandchildren.
“I started giving money ten years ago, when my first grandson told me that he preferred to pick up his gift from the store himself, details the octogenarian. Since then, I haven’t lost the habit. “
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A gesture that now seems to be a custom. In 2015, according to a study by Deloitte, nearly 45% of French people preferred to receive money at Christmas, raising this intention to the top three of the most desired gifts, ahead of books and gift vouchers.
The gift, synonymous with listening
After the age of believing in Santa Claus, are the days when we discover our surprise with magic? The one where you savagely tear the packaging of your present? The psychologist and author of the book What our gifts say (ed. Leduc, 2010), Sylvie Tenenbaum, considers that “ money is the most impersonal gift there is, while Christmas is the moment when we express our knowledge of others ”.
Taking the time to stroll in the favorite store of the loved one would be a sign of our affection. “The more the gift is adapted to the recipient, the more it shows that we care about him and that we listen to him”, continues the psychologist, who considers the gesture of offering as the moment of affirmation of the bond which unites two people.
For Jeannette, however, the attachment to her grandchildren is very present. “I’m just afraid of making a mistake. Their sartorial tastes, their video games, I don’t know anything ”, assures the grandmother, who has eight grandchildren to spoil each year. According to Sophie Chevalier, an anthropologist specializing in consumption practices, nothing could be more normal: the greater the age gap, the greater the reflex to offer money. “The consumption system is increasingly segmented between generations. Fifty years ago my grandmother was certainly more capable to give me a suitable gift. Today, with the gap between expectations, it is more difficult ”, she analyzes, before adding that “It remains of course possible”.
Offer a piece of freedom
Adolescents are therefore the most affected by these requests for cash. In 2019, they were 81% between 10 and 18 years old to receive money, according to a study by the Poll & Roll institute for Pixpay, a banking application. “This figure is not surprising, comments Damien de Blic, co-author of Sociology of money (The Discovery, 2007). Adolescence is the time in life when you want to assert your individuality. Money makes it possible. “
Freely disposing of a sum allows you to make your own purchasing choices, to build your identity, explains the sociologist, before drawing a parallel with the individualization of our societies.
Because if the gesture does not date from yesterday – the habit of offering New Year’s gifts goes back to Antiquity, a period in which the Romans celebrated the winter solstice and the arrival of the new year – the practice has experienced a certain boom in the XIXe century, golden age of the emancipation of individuals. “At the time, offering money was like offering a piece of freedom: it was increasing the other’s ability to make choices”, continues the sociologist.
At the end of the century, the practice of the “Christmas gift” became commonplace, encouraged by the arrival of department stores and a petty bourgeoisie. The first catalogs of “toys and gifts” appeared in the 1900s: gifts were preferred over money for children, but the practice did not really disappear. “Money has always had this effect: both helping freedom and loosening ties. “
Accompanied by a box of chocolates, nicely presented, and a little note: Christmas money can also be offered in a personalized way. This is what the anthropologist Sophie Chevalier calls “Marked money” : usually anonymous and indefinitely exchangeable, the money is offered here for a specific purpose.
“The recipient will often do something specific with this money, and the donor will wait to see the impact of his donation: what purchase has been made, in what has it been invested …” We thus keep the moment of exchange that marks the event, and the material trace that remains in time.
Would money ultimately be the perfect gift? If some prefer it, like to make ends meet when necessary, let’s not forget where the Christmas spirit lies. For psychologist Sylvie Tenenbaum, he is in “The happiness of offering and receiving”. And if the doubt persists, remember to ask: this remains the easy way out so as not to be mistaken.