Concerning Proper Birthday Gifts and the Giving Thereof
As readers of Professor Tolkien's immortal THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS will know, hobbits do not receive gifts on their birthdays. Instead, we freely GIVE gifts--in the long run, this works out better for everyone involved, as you give gifts once a year, but are practically guaranteed to receive at least one a week every week of the year. We like that.
Appropriate gifts range in stature from a simple card with a birthday greeting for a passing acquaintance to lavish imported oddities for your nearest and dearest. Some have expressed puzzlement on how to categorize recipients and levels of gift to give. Here are some guidelines:
Your Postman/Banker/Inn Keeper/Favorite Barmaid/etc : In the case of service personnel not specifically related to you, but of which you are fond, the birthday greeting card (with perhaps a birthday song folded around a single gold coin for the REALLY special ones) is considered good form. These say "Happy Birthday to Me" without being overly pretentious.
Your Relatives Below Fourth-Cousin and all Removes : For those distant relations who you feel obligated to acknowledge but do not know very well--or particularly like--it is appropriate to recycle the least favorite birthday gifts that you have received in the previous year. If possible, refrain from giving them back the gift they gave to you on THEIR birthday, but it is not something to worry overly about, as they probably gave the same thing to everyone they knew.
Your Relatives Between First and Third Cousins : Now, we are starting to get to the gifts that require a bit more thought and generosity. Here, you should keep in mind the personality of the intended recipient, and try to find something that matches their personal tastes. It is still appropriate to give a gift that you have received but do not care for, but it should be something that you feel the one you are giving it to will enjoy better than you did. For example--that lovely handcarved musical instrument that you are too tone deaf to play would be a wonderful gift for your cousin Dandelion who shows a real aptitude (but make a birthday song a stipulation--that way you both get something to enjoy.)
Your Immediate Family : Be prepared to provide new gifts for your siblings and offspring. It is only polite. These gifts should at the very least be purchased from Bywater or Bree, as there should be some sense of the exotic to them. Again, bear the personality of the recipient in mind. The amount spent on each gift is a good way to show whether or not a family member is in favor at the moment.
Your Spouse or Sweetheart : This is the single most important gift of all. It should be as lavish and spectacular as you can possibly make it--because you want the same in return. Something that they will definitely not want to give to a fourth cousin next birthday.