When do you give gifts? Should we feel obliged to repay someone who gives gifts to us? On today’s Wacky Word Wednesday, a weekly celebration of the wackiest and most interesting words from around the world, we will talk about the tradition of gift giving.
Today’s word, taken from TermWiki is:
A present given to a guest or stranger, or to a foreign ambassador; any compulsory gift.
Xenium (plural Xenia) comes from the Greek word, Xenos, ‘guest,’ and Xenion, ‘gift to a guest.’ According to Merriam Webster, Xenia also refers to gifts that are sometimes given compulsorily to medieval rulers and churches. A gift can also be called a xenium if it is received from a stranger. Historian Natalie Zemon Davis wrote in her book titled The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France that xenium is a Greco-Roman term signifying a gift to make a friend of a stranger.
The tradition of gift giving seems to originate from the Roman tradition of presenting the Emperor and each other with good luck tokens, called strenae. In the Western world, this tradition is tied up with the gifts of the Three Wise men who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Although a gift is meant to be free, in many societies, gift giving might evoke an expectation of reciprocity.
Take China for example, where gift giving is often reciprocal. If you receive a gift, you’re most likely expected to give something in return. You should also give a gift that you could imagine receiving from the person to help maintain the social balance. Giving a large gift might create a social burden because the recipient might not be able to repay and this would cause them to lose “face.” So familiarizing yourself with Chinese gift-giving etiquette might be a good idea before you venture into the Middle Kingdom.
Below are some sentence examples using Xenium:
- Thor, who had a penchant for pillaging and plundering, had no idea what sort of xenium he should provide, since he wasn’t in the habit of being hospitable to houseguests. (squidoo)
- Unless you are one of those unbalanced individuals who actually enjoys having company, I would recommend giving a xenium such as a pair of used socks, something that says ‘Here is a gift – please go away.’ (January Magazine)
Have you ever felt obligated to give gifts? Or have you received a surprise gift from a stranger? Feel free to share your stories below!
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