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Donation, A Gift?
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A donation is a gift, is it not? The word "donation" comes from the Latin donare, to give. So why is donating so different from gift giving?

When a gift is given to a friend, associate or family member, it is wrapped (usually) in brightly colored paper (though one of my friends prefers Trader Joe's grocery bags and another the comics from the Sunday Times). The price tag is carefully peeled off and/or obliterated.

It is considered a major social faux pas for the giver to disclose the price or for the recipient to ask for it, or guess. Even "You shouldn't have [spent so much on me]" is considered in questionable taste and is said only among family.

Gifts are (theoretically) given voluntarily, from the heart (It's the thought that counts) with no intention of compensation or public acknowledgement.

On the other hand, donations are dumped off in a plastic bag or cardboard box, unwrapped, if the donation is an item-- or a check or cash if not. The person giving the donation expects a receipt which will state the item's worth or at the very least, its quantity.

The donor reports his donation to the IRS and expects a tax break from his donation in compensation. Large donations are trumpeted in the papers and the giver named "Philanthropist" from then on.

The difference? When a gift is given, it is given to someone we know. When we donate, we give to an unknown person or group and that means they are more distant from us, "other" rather than "us". The stranger at our table is strange indeed and we expect to be paid back for our generosity.

I don't think that's the way it should be. If all men are brothers, a stranger is our brother, too. His gift should be as a gift to a friend or family member, open-handed, without thought to compensation. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanunkah.

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