A gift is a unilateral, unconditional choice to give out of love.

It is unilateral. The act is unsolicited and undemanded by any outside event or person. The choice to give is borne within the giver not under any obligation.

It is unconditional. There are no imperatives, no implicit or explicit demands for reciprocity. The giver is totally immune to whatever the recipient thinks of or does with the gift. The gift is given without ifs and buts. It is non-contingent on any other factor other than love.

It is a choice. The act of giving is undertaken willfully and freely. The responsibility is borne completely by the giver. There is no compulsion within that forces the giver to give. The choice is a healthy one. It is consciously done under the guidance of ethical and loving considerations.

It is love. The greater welfare of the recipient is uppermost in the mind of the giver such that much deliberation is accorded the act of deciding to give, choosing the gift, with much thought given to the consequences of the gift upon the recipient, humanity, and the world.

Here we emphasize the word 'greater' in order to point to the importance of the nature of love. Love does not aim to please nor does it necessarily aim to reduce conflicts and instill harmony. Love, true love, is concerned not with short term returns or ephemeral pleasures. Nor does it content itself with preventing wounds and broken egos. Far from any of these love aims to be ethical--to approach the kind of love that God is.

Because love is imperative in deciding to give the gift, it follows that the act is ethical. Ethics and love cannot be separated. Ethics and love are synonymous. One cannot love without being ethical and one cannot be ethical without consequently being loving.

Thus in the final analysis a true gift is borne of love and ethics. 'Gifting', true giving is nothing more yet nothing less than loving. It is the realization of love and ethics in the broadest sense.

From this definition we see that what matters most is not the object or service that is rendered but the choice by the giver and the quality of this choice. Though there must be an act--that of giving--and, therefore, an object or service--that which is given--what distinguishes the service and object from merely being goods and services bartered in commerce, or some other activity is the intent and conscious choice by that who offers the object or service.

Religious definition:

Gift giving is the human form of godly grace. The gift itself, aside from its material, utilitarian value acquires a significance beyond its intrinsic worth. It becomes a symbol of the love between the giver and the recipient. It becomes the manifest icon of Buber's I-thou relationship.

Reciprocity and Fair Exchange

Transactionalism whereby reciprocity is implicitly demanded, where a debt of gratitude (utang na loob) is incurred, is anathema to gift giving.

The cultural/social imperative of reciprocating 'goodness' received with an equivalent quantity of good to even out the odds makes for fair exchange of services, is but false goodness. Indebtedness implicit in the act of the giver renders the gift not a gift at all but a service advanced in return for a later payment. This is but a more subtle form of trading wherein both the seller and customer are given much greater leeway as what to give or render and pay, and when to do so. All is done, of course, under the pretext of friendship or love.

The epidemic proportion of this social ill has become so prevalent that it is endemic. We no longer see it as a disease but a bastion of goodwill. Though we think and believe that we give wholeheartedly without conditions of reciprocity, still we feel disappointed, insulted, or even betrayed should we not receive even a 'thank you' or an equivalent gesture from the recipient. Reciprocity becomes cloaked in our implicit demand for a show of the virtue of gratitude. And thus we have even usurped the good for our own narcissistic demands.

On the other end not to return a favor is not only bad manners, it is also selfish. Sooner or later it must be incumbent on the recipient to return the compliment, the favor, and give something back to the giver. Social ethics of the culture demand this as a sign of goodness, as being appropriate.

'Tis better to give than to receive--so goes the cliche. And it is only that, a cliche. Its life has outlived its purpose. The admonition to love has been lost to a call to give without the requisite of freely choosing to love. The demand becomes giving than loving. Though the former issues naturally from the latter, the converse need not at all true. In fact there is much giving without love; and that is the consequence of concentrating on the social mandate to give rather than on the choice to love.

The Seasons of Giving

There are no 'seasons of/for giving.' Every moment is a potential instance of loving through gift giving. Giving out of love transcends and excludes the calendars of humanity. Though the act is temporal as man is temporal, it is unbounded by the cycles of nature; neither is it dictated by the dates of society's conventions.

Examine for a moment the rightness of calling the beginning of winter as the season for giving. Why must this be so? If this particular moment in the annual cycle of nature is so named as such does it mean that the other seasons are times for different events, just as hibernation is rightly the province of the months of snow? Or perhaps we do not mean that this particular time is the only period of giving but rather a specially important time to remember to give and give more? If so, why? Why a particular set period in order to do so? Why set off this season as extraordinary from the rest of the calendar?

We, who inhabit the Christian lands, or put in another way--we, who are inhabited by societal and cultural Christian genes, will be quick to retort saying that this specific time of the year has been one of our most holy days celebrated as the time when the Lord of lords came into our human midst and beat the path towards our souls' redemption. It is then only right and proper that we observe this time with a renewal of our commitment to our faith, one of which is a manifest sign of our Christian values--that of giving.

Well said. How can we argue that the essence must be true and proper? And yet our point of contention is not the essence. On the contrary what we are battling for is the recognition of this very essence. The point of contention is the Christian world's failure to remember, its disregard or even its refusal to recognize the essence of the whole event being remembered--that of love, love in its highest form. What we wish to bring out to the fore is the fact that we have lost the foundation upon which these acts of giving are supposed to planted on, that we have made the forms, rather than the essence, as the basis by which we judge what is good and healthy.

The motivation, the prime mover of our action--love--is now deemed radical and, in some instances, unthinkable, for we have long forgotten what it is to love. We have been reared in the ethos of our culture and have remained uneducated in the nature of love. Therefore, we have associated the best of our ethos with love. Love for us has become what society deems proper.

Freedom, Responsibility, and Ethos

In abiding by the principle of love we are working against a tide--the tide of conformity to the ethos of the times. Abiding by the ethos keeps conflicts at bay, surely enough. We are one with our people. The laws, unwrit but staunchly demanded, if followed without fault assures the harmonious flow of one moment to the next, predictable as the tides.

Abiding by the principles of giving out of love, on the other hand, is an iconoclasm that rouses the crowd's contempt. We break the covenant with our tribe and in its stead we posit a law of unrecognized nature. And yet the dilettante nature of the principle to which we subscribe is dilettante only to the extent we have lost our recognition and memory of it, to the extent we have replaced it and accepted as forthright the ethos of transactionalism and etiquette of conformity.

If we are bound to the ethos then we cannot be free. Our thinking, judgment and actions will be determined by the cultural mores. We will be compelled by what it deems right. Our enculturated selves will abide by its dictates.

But a prerequisite to being a loving person is freedom. Without freedom one cannot choose wisely. Without freedom there cannot be an appropriate response. The responses will be dictated by forces within the individual without his conscious approval.