An Introduction to Gifting


Photograph by Cody Day


Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Gifting is the second of the ten principles that govern Burning Man. The importance of gifting and of the gift economy is paramount to the success of Burning Man. Your entire experience at Burning Man is dependant on gifting and on the absence of a monetary system. From the art, the dancing, and the people; to the jewelry, the rides on art cars, and the amazing scent and flavor of bacon in the morning, everything is free, and free by choice.Burning Man is the collective gift of tens of thousands of people looking to share their energy with you, to make something amazing happen for you, and looking for nothing in return.Gifting is not trading. Gifting is not a bartering system. Gifting is sharing for the sole sake of sharing. Gifting protects Burning Man from capitalism, from advertising, and from commoditization, by keeping it profitless.

The importance of gifting is self-evident. The playa provides, because the people provide. A necklace, an ice-cold-sunrise-beer, the temple, the man himself, a yoga class in the heat of the sun, a cigarette when you really need one, a back massage, a ride on a flame-throwing snail, that extra pair of double A’s for your headlamp, a dance, a costume, a soft bed to sleep in on the other side of playa, a shower, a lighter, melatonin for the morning, a hand-carved bracelet, a romp in the dust, a big hug, a grilled-cheese sandwich, or simply eye contact and an honest smile. These are the things that make Burning Man such a magical, such a special, and such a wonderful place. It is not important how many gifts you give, nor is it important how many gifts you receive. Gifting is unquantifiable and limitless. There are many common misconceptions about gifting. Gifting is not standing on the corner of 4:30 and A, handing out plastic store-bought trinkets to every passerby. Gifting is sharing something special with someone special, because you want to. Gifting is an element of our culture, which satisfies a want, and not a need. It’s about giving something that matters to someone that matters.

There is no obligation to gift someone in return for gifting you, it is not a trade, and it is not repayment. You are absolutely free to give a gift in return, it is by no means banned, but there is no expectation for you to do so. At the heart of gifting is seeking nothing in return. Gifting is not bartering. Bartering is the exchange of goods and services for other goods and services. Gifting is a way to bring a small piece of you, and share that piece with someone. Yes there are pirates on playa, yes there are wise pioneers, and yes there are artists, yogis, massage therapists, bartenders, acrobats, clowns, chefs, teachers, wolves, dancers; there are artisans of every possible variety. All of who have the ability to barter and to trade their particular brand of knowledge, of craft, of ability, in the default world. Burning Man is not the default world. Burning Man is a magical place that we build together, and have been building together for twenty-six years, with sweat, with blood and with tears. The gifts that are brought, are brought with love, and are brought for the good of the community, for the good of strangers.

Sometimes the smallest thing can mean absolutely the most, especially when you return home. The ripple effect of giving someone a memory or a tangible item is very powerful; a lighter with something clever screen-printed on it, a sticker of the man for your water bottle, a kiss from some beautiful dusty person. Sharing something can be a gift. You do not have to give away your beloved EL wire lined white tiger fur-coat to that sweet young-shivering sparkle-pony; you can simply let them wear it, share your experience, your gift of knowledge, of preparedness. A gift can be as tangible as a hand-carved wooden mask, painstakingly painted, or as intangible as a good mornings rest in a cool dark place when someone really needs it. The best gifts can be the ones that someone doesn’t even know they need, like a cool vinegar footbath, electrolytes, or a cold glass of water. Gifts need not be material. It is the energy behind them that matters.

Gifting allows us the opportunity to be ourselves, our true-selves. By sharing, we are allowed to express a piece of ourselves directly. There is no translation needed for a gift. Gifts, like Burning Man, transcend all language barriers, all races, creeds, and background. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you believe. Gifting is an important principle of the Burn, because it, along with radical self-reliance supports the moneyless atmosphere that allows this environment to exist. Through gifting we are able to escape living as simply an extension of what is in our wallets and where we come from. The default world is burdened with the existence of money, on playa we need not be.

Gifting off playa is one of the most satisfying gifts of all. As Burners we understand the importance of sharing, of helping our fellow man, and of creating something magical, together. The default world is filled with pain, with anger, and with jealousy; it needs more love, understanding, and support. Bringing the principle of gifting home with you, along with the pounds of dust, is one of the greatest things you can do. Part of the beauty of this principle is bringing it back into the default world, and really affecting someone. It is easy and it in no way threatens the Burning Man culture. We have more than enough to give. There is enough love to go around, and the love is as contagious as a wildfire smile.

3 Responses to “An Introduction to Gifting”
  1. DogWithPantsOn

    Nice one Codiak. Burning Man really is the closest thing our society has to true anarchy and freedom. Pretty fucking awesome.


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