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A Burner Lexicon: Gifting

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, and Burning Man

Gifting takes many forms including the sharing of food. Black Rock City, 2007. Photo by Bill Dimmick.

Gifting, The Burner Principles were created relatively recently as an attempt to share the core values of the Burn community as it grew beyond That Thing in the Desert to encompass an increasing number of regional events. Like the principles themselves, the concept of a gift economy is a relative newcomer to Black Rock City. Though conventional commerce has been strictly limited since the old days, there was one time when barter was commonplace. This practice has since fallen out of favor, in part due to encouragement from the BMORG who were facing the possibility that the default world would impose itself on the playa through sales tax and other legal entanglements.

Virgins often expend much effort worrying about what gifts they will offer the community. Although swag is welcomed, especially items imprinted with the Burning Man logo, the best gifts are those which arise organically in the moment when one participant perceives a need they can satisfy. Gifts are not always lasting objects — food, drink, and physical labor are just as common. When Burners help build an effigy or erect a shade structure they are giving a gift; so is anyone giving rides on their mutant vehicle or doing a Ranger or Greeter shift. The gift economy is the reason the playa provides, serendipitously helping Burners find what they need when they need it.

This principle extends to a spirit of generosity found throughout the lives of Burners, reminding them to share what they have and to ask when they are lacking. Despite a limited number of paid employees, Burning Man would not exist without its volunteers and most regionals remain entirely based on volunteer labor. Though most will go far to help those in need, Burners who have accumulated the most whuffie tend to receive the most assistance in reality camp.

See also: Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, Decommodification.

Some of the best gifts are simple and ephemeral — the lexicographer will never forget the hot English muffin pizza he was gifted at just the right moment in 2004.

A Burner Lexicon has been soliciting opinions from other thoughtful Burners on the Ten Principles. Below you will find another opinion, but more are still welcomed. Use the contact information at the top to send your thoughts.

Going to Burning Man? The lexicographer is missing out this year, so please send him new words and catch phrases when you return from the playa.

For more entries in A Burner Lexicon, visit

Trishntek are a pair of Burners from Ventura, California, who first attended Burning Man in 2010 at the recommendation of a daughter. They suggested:

Swag from Burning Man 2006. Photo by Sasha Lynn.

Gifting is such a personal, unique and relative activity. Some are able to give their entire lives to the Burning Man community. Some spend the entire year creating special jewelry, gadgets or momentos for the sake of their fellow burners. Others have only themselves to offer at the event due to the fact it required much of their resources to simply get there.

In the big picture, gifting is an attitude. Going with an attitude of generosity of resources, time and effort delivers great rewards. Such rewards can be as simple as a smile or a hug. Other rewards can be the absolute salvation of another burner’s experience from negative to positive.

Gifting is unconditional. Gifting is unpretentious. Gifting is sharing a part of yourself with another free of expectations. But the “gift” is not a “gift” unless it is accepted. Sometimes gracious acceptance of a gift can be a “gift” in itself.

BRANDON is the writer behind the Burning Log, a source of often sarcastic Burner opinion. He wrote:

More than anything, Burners seem to appreciate an extra hand over glow sticks or other store-bought odds and ends. Although, many among us can’t get enough “schwag.” So, if you’ve got homemade necklaces with a certain iconic stick figure plastered on a locket, hand ’em over!  
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