Hobbits are described in The Lord of the Rings as a merry folk who loved to laugh, eat, drink and “they were hospitable and delighted in parties, and in presents, which they gave away freely and eagerly accepted.”
No wonder they are popular creatures! But should their birthday traditions exist in Tolkien’s fantasy world only? Trying some Hobbit customs might give our own celebrations a refreshing twist. Here are four truly inspiring aspects of treating birthday presents as Hobbits do:
1. Hobbits give presents only as they can afford.
‘Not very expensive’ was a basic rule for birthday presents so the giver “could accommodate his gift to his purse and his affections without incurring public comment or offending (if anyone) any other than the recipient”, as Tolkien explained in a letter to a fan (Letter 214 in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter).
And no, a cheap present does not mean it could only be lame by definition. There are very cool gifts that hardly cost anything.
2. Birthday presents are given in private.
As explained in Tolkien’s letter, Hobbits handed over the presents one-on-one, in person and before the party. We can see clearly that this allows undivided attention on both sides. If not practiced properly, it might be embarrassing to some, but it also allowed a wonderful opportunity to show the other person how much they cared about them.
Presents were not just simply handed over in private as “it was very improper to exhibit them separately or as a collection” – to avoid showing off (Letter 214). And if you have ever experienced the embarrassment of a situation where someone was given two identical gifts by different persons, then you know one more reason to value the Hobbits’ traditions.
3. Hobbits having their birthdays give small presents to others.
When Hobbits threw a birthday party (and they usually did), all guests were presented with a small gift (even those who had not given anything to the Hobbit celebrating his/her birthday before the party). The tradition has been elaborated as “a form of ‘thanksgiving’, so it was taken as a recognition of services, benefits, and friendship shown, especially in the past year” (Tolkien’s Letter 214 is the source of the quotes in this section if not stated otherwise).
Hobbits started the custom as small children, giving their parents gifts that they had “found, grown, or made.” Things “belonging to or produced by the giver” were absolutely ‘correct’ presents among adults too. Presents could be new or used things, some “had circulated all around the district” as we can read in The Lord of The Rings (that is probably something not to be learned from Hobbits).
As we know from Bilbo’s not necessarily typical example (of his farewell / birthday gifts, in his case anyway), presents could even refer to the relationship in a serious or a joking manner.
For example, Bilbo gave a gold pen and ink-bottle to someone who never answered letters or a large waste-paper basket to a relative who “had written reams of good advice for more than half a century.”
As we read it in The Lord of The Rings, this tradition ensured that everyone received lots of presents throughout the year, and Hobbits “never got tired of them.”
But we can see another perspective too: the hobbit having a birthday practiced gratitude. So altogether, this was really wise as many small, good things contribute to everyone’s happiness better than fewer, even though bigger, positive events (frequency beats intensity), and practicing gratitude also makes people happier. Consequently, there is not much risk in saying that this Hobbit custom can create an absolute win-win situation.
4. The celebration itself is more important than the gifts.
As we learn from Letter 214, Hobbit guests expected the small presents they were given “as part of the entertainment” and “secondary to the fare provided.” If you have come across Bilbo’s party in The Lord of the Rings, you might have an idea that all Hobbit parties were huge. but mind you, that party was rather exceptional. (For example, fireworks displayed by Gandalf were obviously not part of the usual customs, and the presents given to the guests were “unusually good.”)
We can imagine the atmosphere of that party as probably typical though, with elements that – if practiced regularly – might also help us make our lives a celebration.
There is another custom to be learned from Hobbits that highlights the importance of celebration. As Tolkien explained in Letter 214, “sometimes, in the case of a very dear friend unable to come to a party (because of distance or other causes), a token invitation would be sent, with a present. In that case the present was always something to eat or drink, purporting to be a sample of the party-fare.”
Hobbits made sure that all thier friends were in some way involved in the celebration.
Which of these customs would you like to try or have you tried already when celebrating your or someone else’s birthday? Your ideas and experiences are all welcome.
Featured photo credit: small presents via pixabay.com