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Gift-giving across faiths 

Gods’ gift: How to give sensitive holiday gifts to people with multiple belief systems.

December in Halifax tends to be Christmas-centric, but not everyone celebrates with a wreath and a tree. We call them “the holidays” now, because there’s more than one. So, how to be sensitive? Here are some thoughts from a few people whose festival falls on a day other than December 25.

“The kids do get presents,” says Ram Mago, the chairperson of the Hindu Vedanta Ashram Society. Now that his own children are grown up, he doesn’t celebrate Christmas anymore, but he still gets presents sometimes. “If we get a card, then we send a card to them too,” he says.

What’s an appropriate gift if someone likes to keep it small? “There’s no rule that applies to everyone,” he says, but adds, “on the other hand, it’s reciprocal. What you get, you generally pay back in the same coin.”

“People should be conscious of dollar amounts reflecting the actual relationships that they have,” says Rabbi Ari Sherbill of the Beth Israel synagogue, but he adds that gifts between friends reflect the relationship. They know no religion. “You celebrate Christmas, and whatever that means to you, somehow you’re sharing the enthusiasm and joy in the spirit with a friend,” he says. Sherbill says that the obvious exception to this is if the gift has a religious bent. “If I’m giving a gift like a Hanukkah menorah, that’s religious. If a person who celebrates Christmas is giving a little statue of Jesus, that’s religious.”

Well, yes. But outside of those bounds, what else is appropriate?

“You’d totally not give wine or champagne or anything like that”---to a Muslim family ---“because Muslims don’t drink,” explained the lady taking questions at the Centre for Islamic Development. “I know in the holidays, sometimes when you go to visit that’s what you bring, but you wouldn’t do something like that.”

“If you don’t know the person very well, consider giving an impersonal item like a donation to charity, cake, or candy,” says Molly Rechnitzer, the membership coordinator of Shaar Shalom synagogue. “If you know your friend celebrates a different occasion such as Hanukkah, it’s appropriate to make your gift a Hanukkah present.”

Whatever you give, just put a little thought into it and you should be fine. “I’ve received Christmas tree ornaments, and I’m Jewish,” says Rechnitzer. “But I know the gift was given from the heart.”

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