Ilona Nagy. Budapest

In everyday usage, gift-giving means an unselfish, disinterested action. As the Shorter Oxford Dictionary puts it, a gift is something transferred "without expectation or receipt of an equivalent". In contrast, the literature on anthropology describes gift-giving actions as in part meeting with "an immediate reciprocation", while in all of them there is "an acknowledgement of a relationship which implies continuous obligations and transactions" (Belshaw 1965,46). These actions in the primitive societies are discussed at great length in anthropological studies, but it is only recently that researchers have begun to study their forms in modem societies. The sociologists see gift-giving as an archaic form of social contact, one which is now declining and disappearing. Their opinion may have been influenced by Marcel Mauss, who held that "much of our everyday morality is concerned with the obligation and spontaneity in the gift". This can be attributed to the fact that "we still have people and classes who uphold past customs" (Mauss 1967, 63). When gift-giving once again comes into fashion in contemporary society, it is like "the resurrection of a dominant motif long forgotten" (Mauss 1967, 66).

In this paper, I shall attempt to analyse a gift-giving occasion that has recently come into fashion, placing it in the historically determined values and operating mechanism of the local society. The community examined is a group representing the entire population of a village, the residents born between 1924 and 1944. My interview subjects were drawn from this group. The village is Vel'ke Ul'any (Nagyfodemes) in Slovakia which, in 1980, had a population of 4247,82 % of whom were ethnic Hungarians. A large number of Slovak settlers came to the village from Hungary during the population exchange after the Second World War. These people, together with the few Slovak families already living here at that time, and the Slovaks and Moravians on the two former large estates that belonged to the village, made up the remainder of the population At the time of the investigation, a considerable part of the population, traditionally agricultural labourers and tradesmen, had already become part-time farmers Besides plant cultivation on their own household plots, which they regarded as of fundamental importance (the most profitable branch of this activity was the labour-intensive cultivation of vegetables and flowers in greenhouses which could be carried out on a small area), they had become members of the local farm co-operation or had taken jobs on the state farm or, in considerable numbers, had become wage labourers in the nearby towns or in the capital, Bratislava Lacking qualifications, many of them worked in the service sector.

Since 1974 a collective celebration is held each year by the residents of the village who have turned fifty, or those who were bom and registered in the village fifty years ago but have since moved away I observed this celebration and the gathering of peers on five occasions between 1987 and 1994 It struck me at the time of the investigation that a thorough analysis could be made not only of the collective celebration, but also of the prominent place of the fiftieth birthday among birthdays, the way it becomes a rite of passage, as well as the exceptional scale and nature of the related gift-giving.

A study of gift-giving in modern societies is also regarded as very desirable because the tension between market and personal relations that is a decisive characteristic of the life of capitalist societies is not found in the simplest societies which do not have an institutionalised market economy According to Mauss, gift-giving has its roots in customs and tradition, but since gift-giving customs are also influenced by social changes in broader sense, they are not constant In the United States, for example, the growing fragility of family life is regarded as responsible for the ntualisation of family life and the exceptionally great role attributed to gift-giving " the material rewards from participation in the labour market are countered by symbolic rewards for caring for others, which are produced in the rituals of the festival cycle" (Caplow etal 1982,244 Cited in Cheal 1988,4) On the other hand, institutions are taking over the place of kinship and neighbourhood relationships in many areas of life, with the consequence that a sharp line is drawn between the marketable and the nonmarketable, that is, between the sacred and the profane. A process of differentiation in gift transactions is taking place in the changing moral order of economic relations. "Gifts are no longer used principally as practical means for mutual aids, but instead they are symbolic media for managing the emotional aspects of relationships (Cheal 1988, 5). The separation of the public and private spheres also means that women participate far more actively than men in gift-giving. The collective gift-giving actions of the primitive societies have given way to subjectivity and the free choice of the individual as a result of the importance placed on the notion of individuality in the plural societies. "Within contemporary western moral economies it is above all conventional sentiments of friendship, love and gratitude that are thought to inspire giving" (Cheal 1988, 18). "The gift economy ... a system of redundant transactions within moral economy, which makes possible the extended reproduction of social relations" (Cheal 1988, 19).

The village studied was part of socialist Czechoslovakia until 1990: the ideal of collectivity was a far greater force in guiding the life of the village - and to a certain extent continued to be later - than people in western-type societies could even imagine. The relative material prosperity was the result of the combination of private economy (vegetable-growing) and the state of wage labourer, and could be attributed to enjoyment of the benefits offered by the efficiently operating social services. Since the social relations did not allow the spread of the private sphere, the surplus was used to realise a model of bourgeois advancement that was within their reach. The special significance that had become attached to the fiftieth birthday and that came from the state sphere and workplaces, was used as a means for this. In 1987 I was able to study the same custom, the collective celebration of villagers reaching the age of fifty, in Unterwart (Alsoor), a village in Burgenland, Austria. The custom is also known in Doroslovo (Doroszlo), in ex-Yugoslavia (Kovacs 1991) and in Smdominic (Csikszentdomokos) in Romania (Balazs, 1992); these are all Hungarian villages outside the borders of the Hungarian state. The custom arose practically at the same time everywhere, although with different motivation. The scenario followed for the celebration is very similar, as is the gift-giving. It can be concluded from the data of the case I studied in Alsoor and the other two cases' studies - although in the latter ones the data is unfortunately not complete - that, despite the similarities, the model of gift-giving in Fodemes is unique. It is headed in the direction of gift-giving customs in western societies, but the strict community regulation and its uniformity forces those participating in it to attain a specified goal. The reproduction of social relations is undoubtedly the goal of the relations, but the pur-posefulness and uniformity of the gifts, and especially their irrational extent, indicate the lack of perspective for economic development and the social aspirations of the community.

The fiftieth anniversary is symbolically the peak of one's life career (the individual is still active but has already reached the stage in his or her life career which is not likely to be surpassed), and it represents half of a hundred, "half a century". The celebration draws attention to the approaching end of the active age and the beginning of old age. The identical age distinguishes those celebrating their anniversary from all the other residents of the village, and the identical local allegiance sets them apart from all the other people of the same age in the world. They form a chosen and unique group, a state which is also expressed symbolically. The collective celebration is the result of self-organisation by the peer group (organising committee) and co-operation with state assistance (the local authority, the "People's Council - Narodny Vybor", later the Office of the Mayor). The place where the celebration is held is "common space": the marriage hall and the restaurant used only for collective events, and sacred places, the cemetery and the place of collective worship, the church. The scenario consists of official and spontaneous parts: an official inscription in the register of births and deaths, a speech of greeting by the leader of the community, a gala programme, preceded by a visit to the cemetery and followed by a "collective meal", a banquet and dance. Each celebrator receives a flower and a plate with the characteristic buildings of the village on it as a symbolic expression of local identity - in part in return for the contribution paid and in part as a gift of the community. Equality within the group - regardless of gender, nationality, occupation or social status - is realised intentionally. This applies to the order of celebration in all the known models. Departures represent only stages on the path leading from the application of the externalities of traditional folk custom towards an event that can be regarded rather as a privately organised, friendly gathering. The gathering in Csikszentdomokos is an example of the former (folk costumes, a procession in the main street of the village, gifts of folk art objects made by the givers, the menu customary for wedding feasts with a special "greeting" for each course, the symbols used for office-bearers also following the example of the wedding feast, etc.), while in capitalist Austria the model differs from the example of Fodemes in the fact that the sponsors are private persons and the dishes and drinks can be prepared in private homes as well.

I shall not describe the celebration at length (for details, see: Nagy 1988, 1994), but instead shall examine the change it has produced in the community's gift economy. The fifty-year-olds first received special attention from around the mid-seventies, roughly around the time when the structure of occupations outlined above began to take shape and the foundations of the economic prosperity were laid. It was then that a radical change in the traditional order of gift-giving began. Before the Second World War, gifts of substantial value were given only at birth and marriage; even for Christmas and Easter only day clothing was given. On the occasion of folk customs involving the collection of donations it was only rarely that money was given - donations usually took the form of food: fruit or home-made sweets. Birthdays and name days were only occasionally celebrated and practical small items were given as gifts. This order gradually changed from the mid-seventies. It was by this time that the peer group celebrating their fiftieth birthday in this special way reached the stage of rebuilding their homes, or building a new, two-storey house and furnishing it. Decorative objects became symbols of the bourgeois prosperity to which they aspired. "One of the characteristics of bourgeois taste is that it makes everyday environment "festive"-with expensive objects of art and decorative objects" (Hemadi 1982,31).

The Canadian examples examined by Cheal show that the greatest diversity is found in Christmas gifts: the three most frequent types of gift make up only 34 % of the Christmas gifts. Practically anything intended for the purpose can be a Christmas gift. For birthdays, which he classifies in the category of presence-availability, the people of Winnipeg most frequently give gifts of day clothing, reading equipment and personal relations media (Cheal 1988, 95). The homogenising effect of the gift-ware industry is trying with more or less success to inhibit individual taste and demands, for contrary to the opinion of Levi-Strauss that there is a "limited range of objects suitable as presents" (Levi-Strauss 1969, 56), in reality there is an "enormous range of objects which are transformed into gifts" (Cheal 1988, 77). This cannot be seen in the Fodemes example. The industrial background is given: since the fiftieth birthday is celebrated in workplaces throughout the country, industry manufactures stem glasses, porcelain plates and greeting cards decorated with the figure 50 Every celebrator receives these The symbolic objects marked with the year belong in the same category as 90 % of all the gifts given the group of decorative household objects Decorative objects made of crystal appeared in the greatest quantity at the fiftieth "jubilee" of those born between 1935 and 1942, a total of between 20 and 30, counting sets as a single unit From 1992 the prices of Czech crystal rose steeply and in recent years it has been purchased only very occasionally It has been replaced by the influx of Far Eastern, mainly Indian copper objects and Chinese porcelain. (A separate shop has been opened in the village to sell these.)

The remaining 10 % of the gifts were jewellery or clothing however, 100 % of the recipients also received decorative objects (Gold is the suggested gift for the 50th anniversaries according to the catalogue of Holidays and Anniversaries of the World, 1985 xxvii ) Flowers, drinks and sweets are only a supplementary gift given by guests at the birthday party The audience at the collective celebration (relatives, friends) once again give a gift, this time exclusively flowers The collective photograph taken at the celebration, as well as photos taken at the parties, will also be a gift.

The occasions for gift-giving are 1 The family party held on the birthday (attended by relatives parents, spouses, children and their families, the parents of godchildren also with their families - adult children with spouses and children - neighbours and close friends) 2 The workplace party (attended by the workplace managers and close colleagues, without families) These are the givers of decorative objects, the value of the object purchased reflecting the distance of the relationship with the recipient The most valuable come from the spouse, these are generally followed by a collective gift of the workplace community and a gift from the children 3 Acquaintances not invited to the party "drop in" during the day with flowers or drinks, or they take flowers to the collective celebration The simplest gift is a bunch of carnations, but the number of flowers also precisely indicates the classification of the relationship Close relatives give more costly bouquets containing more flowers The most expensive flower is the flamingo flower (lat Anthunum, its local name is "arturia"); roses occupy a middle.

Men and women receive the same flowers, meaning that men also receive flowers and the sexual content of this gift is not taken into account (Herna'di 1985, 126). Men receive a total of 200-300 carnations in the same way women do. Crystal vases are also purchased for men, and if they receive them, they appreciate them just as highly as women do. It is only within the small group in society who are falling behind that the financial situation of the family influences spending for the occasion; the great majority all respect the normative rules in the same way. Hungarians and Slovaks have the same positive attitude to the celebration: they invite each other and give gifts. Equality is also manifested in the order of seating for the collective celebration: no special place of honour is given to any single member of the peer group. The community wishes to symbolise unity with the celebration and the individual wishes to be celebrated in a way that meets the expectations of the community. Personal taste was accepted only in a single case: a man (born 1936) got a lot of ceramics from Modra instead of crystal objects, because everybody knew that he was an enthusiastic collector of them. But these objects have the same decorative function and belong to the same category of gifts as the crystals. The uniformity of gifts is an indication in part of the identity of demands, and in part of the functioning of a closed society operating in the traditional way.

The ritual for the fiftieth birthday, as already mentioned, also follows the pattern of the wedding feast (the wedding feast menu is used in Also'õr, too) - although it also contains elements of the graduation ceremony and the annual class reunion. The gifts also serve essentially the function of the wedding gift and approach the latter in value. The glass cabinets of the age group examined were filled on this occasion and the furnishing of their houses completed with these objects. The glass cabinets are shown to guests without being asked, identifying the donor and occasion of each gift. The sixty-year-olds celebrate and give gifts in a private sphere in the same way as the fifty-year-olds, and they also hold a modest collective celebration (that of the forty-year-olds, which is also coming into fashion, is generally not a big success). The objects are not passed on as gifts; there are no circulating objects. On festive occasions the crystal glasses and vases are brought out for use, much more than in the case of the recipients in Also'õr, who keep the gifts in their original packaging, in the depths of cupboards.

The modem theory of gift transactions began when Marcel Mauss described the "autonomous system of presentations" which has, as its basic driving force, the obligation to reciprocate the gift received. Reciprocity is the fundamental condition of social interactions (Mauss 1967, 10-16). In the society of Föde'mes this system functions perfectly, in a hard and strict form. Just as the gift is a precise reflection of human relationships, the reciprocation must reflect them in the same way. In the extensive system of gift-giving, it is no longer regarded as correct to make a visit without taking a gift, even in the case of a visit to a neighbour, and a failure to reciprocate a gift is the object of severe criticism. The establishment of relationships is also made with gifts, for example in the case of a person arriving from outside, whom they wish to involve in the network of local relationships. This network is kept alive by the continuous occasions for gift-giving (birthdays, weddings - selecting persons to be invited from an ever wider circle), and when the need arises it is transformed into a factor of power. These networks determined the chances of the candidates in the local elections held in 1994.

Gifts and ritual occasions help to maintain family and kinship relations, which are closely intertwined with friendship relations. Together with those who have come from far away (some of the deportees who have no close relatives in the village any more, visited the native village first at the invitation to the peer gathering and have had regular contact with forgotten relatives or other local people since then), this network is geographically very scattered, but local identity also unites it with those who live locally but were not born there and who belong to another ethnic group. The demand for this unity finds symbolic expression in the extended reproduction of social relations.


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