Valuing our Differences - Celebrating Diversity

There are a number of various cultural, religious and secular celebrations at this time of the year. Some of these include:


National American Indian Heritage Month – November
All Saints' Day (Christian, Roman Catholic) – November 2
Dia de los Muertos "Day of the Dead" (Mexico, Latin America) – October 31-November 2
All Souls' Day (Roman Catholic) – November 2
Birthday of Baha'u'llah (Baha'i) – November 12
Diwali (Buddhist, Hindu) – November 3 
Hijri New Year – November 4-5 
Day of Ashura (Islamic, Muslim) – November 10


St. Nicholas Day (International) – December 2
Bodhi Day-Buddha's Enlightenment (Buddhist) – December 8
Hanukkah (Jewish) – November 27-December 5 
Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexico) – December 12
Santa Lucia Day (Sweden) – December 13
Las Posadas (Mexico) – December 16-24
Christmas (Christian, Roman Catholic, International) – December 25
Boxing Day (Canada, United Kingdom) – December 26
Kwanzaa (African-American) – December 26-January 11

And of course, during the calendar year there are many more. In Canada specifically, during November and December, Christmas gets the most attention. While each event has its unique qualities, many of these celebrations have a common thread: the giving and receiving of gifts.

Tara Parker-Hope wrote an interesting article in The New York Times a few years ago about gift giving titled A Gift That Gives Right Back? The Giving Itself (Parker-Hope, NYT 2007) in which she stated:

Gift giving has long been a favorite subject for studies on human behavior, with psychologists, anthropologists, economists and marketers all weighing in. They have found that giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends. Indeed, psychologists say it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift.

The social value of giving has been recognized throughout human history. For thousands of years, some native cultures have engaged in the potlatch, a complex ceremony that celebrates extreme giving. Although cultural interpretations vary, often the status of a given family in a clan or village was dictated not by who had the most possessions, but instead by who gave away the most. The more lavish and bankrupting the potlatch, the more prestige gained by the host family.

Unfortunately, the exercise of gift giving has moved away from the psychological benefit of “it’s better to give than receive” to a major stressor, “What am I going to buy him or her!” Often the receiver of the gift assesses the giver’s action based on the gift’s:

  • value (how much did it cost)
  • origin (what store it was purchased from)
  • brand (nothing but ____ will do)
  • colour; size; style; (did he/she know my tastes)
  • nature of the gift (what was he/she thinking)

We all can relate to receiving a gift that we just didn’t “want,” was disappointing, insulting, or a gift that was simply unexpected. Our expectation of the giver has become out of touch with the real purpose of gift giving.

I’m reminded of a time when I was consulting for a large organization in Saudi Arabia. After my first visit to Jeddah, and a week of intensive meetings, we wrapped up with a mini celebration. Unexpectedly, my client presented me with gifts to acknowledge our new relationship. Though a formal business relationship had been created through contract, my client desired to solidify a much more valued personal relationship by offering tokens of appreciation not only to me personally, but to my wife and two kids. However, based on my western values, I was quick to attempt a valuation of what I received. As expected, my client and new friends bestowed upon me gifts of immense value. I was quickly reminded, however, of the purpose of giving. It was not to impress me with wealth but to accept me, a foreigner, as a friend. When I look at the crystal decanter set stored in our curio cabinet, its social value far exceeds its $10,000 commercial value. The gift reminds me of the relationship and acceptance that I must also give to others who might be different but still deserve to be highly esteemed and valued.

Anthropologist Terry Y. LeVine said it well:

The practice of giving and receiving gifts is so universal it is part of what it means to be human. In virtually every culture, gifts and the events at which they are exchanged are a crucial part of the essential process of creating and maintaining social relationships.

Syndi Seid of is a leading authority on business protocol and etiquette and consults with readers and professionals about the best practices of social, cultural and professional etiquette. Consider the followingtips for giving and receiving gifts as you prepare for the holiday season and the new year:


1. Be sure of the true purpose of the gift. Beyond saying the gift is for a particular holiday or occasion; think through how well this gift will express your feelings for this person. To figure this out, ask yourself: How much do I really care about this person? How much time, energy, and money am I willing to spend to select just the right gift for him or her? Let the answers guide you throughout this process.

2. Do your homework about the receiver. Be observant about his or her favorite items, things he or she might need, or things that would be a meaningful expression of your relationship. Try to remember comments about favorite colors, foods, or beverages. As needed, ask someone else who knows the person, explaining that the purpose of your inquiry is to help learn something that will help you select a special gift. I think most people are willing to help with ideas.

3. Be sensitive to personal and cultural differences. With such a diverse population in our society, it is important to learn something about a person’s ethnic, religious, and cultural practices along with their personal likes and dislikes, before you present a gift. Take time to learn what’s appropriate and what’s not in different communities to gain insights on what a person would or would not appreciate as a gift. For example, giving a bottle of wine to someone who does not drink alcohol could make the receiver less than overjoyed with your gift.

4. Know when corporate logos are appropriate. Sometimes a gift with a company logo cheapens its appearance. The best gifts are those without any company logos or promotion on it, especially when given as special thank you gift. Logo gifts are fine as small tokens and remembrances for meetings held, not generally as the sincerest form of a thank you gift.

5. Use simple and elegant wrapping. Japanese-influenced, understated wrapping is best in my mind. Avoid using brightly colored, bold, heavily patterned paper and a lot of brightly colored, fancy bows and ribbons on the package. Use instead, solid stately colors and quality paper with simple ribbon.

6. Present your gift with style. The best way to present a gift is always beautifully wrapped and in person. And when you do, present your gift held with both your hands as though you are holding it on a silver platter. This ritual is adopted from Asian culture to show the utmost respect and care. In business situations, when sending the gift by messenger or mail, include your business card with the gift, along with a handwritten note on personal note card or stationary.


7. Show your appreciation when receiving a gift in person. Always put a smile on your face as a gift is being presented. Receive the gift with both hands (again an influence from the Asian culture). Say thank you along with a brief expression of appreciation.

8. Let the giver know as soon as possible when a gift has arrived. Make every effort to let the sender know you received a gift sent by mail or messenger (email, fax, or telephone call is fine). Then follow it up by sending the proper thank you note as soon as possible (see Tip 10 for more details).

9. Be sensitive to opening a gift in front of others. Americans typically open gifts as soon as it is received, even in front of an audience and other groups of people. Know that in many countries it is not customary or appropriate to open gifts in front of other people. They are kept to be opened alone. When receiving house gifts, special guest and speaker gifts, be sensitive as to whether you will or will not be encouraged and expected to open it right away.

10. Know the bottom line. Always, always hand write a thank you note for every gift you receive, no matter what-regardless of whether you like the gift or not, even if you plan to exchange the gift or give it away. Simply said, sending a thank you note is the right thing to do.2

The appreciation of our relationships should not be grossly defined by the commercialization of gift giving. Rather, our relationships should be defined by how we value our differences and celebrate our diversity.

For all of you whom I have met, those of you who continue to read these articles, those who have been in my life and supported me and for those who give every day to help me live a full and rich life, I give a sincere thank you and wish you and your family a happy holiday season.

Happy Holidays,

1 University of Kansas Medical Center – Diversity Calendar

Reprinted with permission to Certified Management Accountants, Copyright 2013 by Syndi Seid and Advanced Etiquette. All Rights Reserved.  The original article and others may be seen at: