When You Believe in Things That You Don’t Understand: Very Superstitious Gifts

Have you ever received a superstitious gift? 

 A few years ago, a good friend/colleague presented me with mooncakes for the Asian Moon Festival. 

 He explained that it was part of his culture’s superstitions. It prompted an interesting discussion because he used the term deliberately. Although it was a tradition to give mooncakes, he was motivated by superstition: by giving me mooncakes, he wanted me to enjoy health and prosperity. I was grateful!

We may not state it as explicitly as my friend, but superstitions are a part of gift giving across all history and cultures. As humans, we’re clear on the point: we experience things over which we have no control. It’s in our nature to be superstitious– we attempt to influence the unpredictable circumstances in our lives. 

Athletes incorporate superstitions before major competitions. It improves their focus and reduces tension. And 70% of students rely on good luck charms for better academic performance. Businesses take superstitions into consideration- more than 80% of high-rise buildings all over the world skip the 13th floor.

Science suggests that superstitions can offer real psychological benefits. They’re a way of relieving stress in uncertainty, and they can help to promote a positive mental attitude.

A good friend, or a savvy leader, is going to factor superstitions into a gift decision, out of respect for the recipient. It may not be their reason for giving it, but it might influence how a gift is received. It would be unfortunate to unknowingly offend someone by overlooking a tradition. It’s a good opportunity to get to know someone a little better by asking good questions. Do a little research.

Many taboo gifts aren’t going to be as obvious as a Goosebumps episode. (Although, if it’s featured on Goosebumps- steer clear of giving it. Including-but-not-limited-to amulets that grant wishes and prune cookies that make you older when you eat them. Ventriloquist dummies should come with a warning label. Just don’t.) 

Western superstitions have been passed down through Old Wives’ Tales. These women seldom reveal their sources, although we still heed their warnings and avoid giving these gifts:

  • Handkerchiefs signify tears to come.
  • Soap will wash your friendship away.
  • Mirrors cause estrangement. (See also Goosebumps, Episode 32.)

Different cultures consider different numbers to be unlucky.

  • Fear of the number thirteen has its own name: triskaidekaphobia.
  • Number four is avoided in China because it sounds like the word for death.
  • In Japan, the number nine sounds similar to the word for torture. 

There’s a powerful connection between superstitions and gift giving. Superstitions are built around the uncertainties of life. A gift is the reassurance that the recipient is not facing these uncertainties alone. That’s one less thing to worry about! It’s a good reason to feel hopeful.

Superstitions identify the parts of life over which we have no control. This allows us to identify the things that we can control. We can choose to invest in relationships and build the community. 

We mark our major life events with Mileposts. From a Milepost, you can look back and see where you came from, and how you got there. The past is a known quantity. Many gifts celebrate the accomplishment that brought you to the milepost.

The path forward is going to be unpredictable. That’s where the superstitious gift comes in. You’re on the journey together. They can be sure of it.

Here’s to the future!

Is there gift giving in your future?
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