Have you ever thought about where the idea of giving gifts originated from? If you’re like me, this would never have entered your mind and like so many of us is something we take for granted, something that we have been brought up with since being small. Giving gifts is a form of communication and unusual gifts have been given since the beginning of time.
The History Of Gift Giving – when did it start
Gift giving dates back thousands of years and has existed since the beginning of mankind, even as far as to say, before cavemen. Chimpanzees have been known to give gifts of food as part of their mating ritual or just to gain favour from others. Primitive gifts, other than food, often included bark from a tree, an unusual or unique shaped stone, an animal tooth or fur, all of these showing some kind emotion, be it love, appreciation, joy or gratitude. Gift giving has changed over time, as have the gifts themselves, becoming more elaborate over time, for example, as cavemen developed tools the appearance of necklaces become evident as the animal teeth were strung on some sort of animal hair or gut. Fur started to be turned into the form of garments, and hence, the evolution of the gift started.
Gifting In Different Cultures – the meaning is the same
Every culture in some way or another enhances the act of Gift Giving, it’s in our nature whoever we are. Gift Giving is a means of communicating and expressing ourselves, with gifts being given for a host of occasions and on a variety of celebrations, all conveying meaningful messages.
Ancient Egyptians can be thanked for the tradition of gift giving on birthdays, although the gifts were not given on their actual “day of birth”, but on their coronation, it was believed that the Pharaohs coronation was a more important occasion than their “actual birth” as this was when they believed the Pharaohs transformed into Gods and transitioned to the Afterlife. The wealth of the Pharaoh depicted the extravagance of the gifts.
Ancient Greeks on the other hand gave gifts to ward off evils spirits, their belief was that evil spirits would haunt a loved one on their birthday so they would visit that person bringing with them good wishes and gifts to help protect them. The blowing out of candles on a birthday can also be attributed to the Greeks in their belief that to protect the birthday boy or girl they had to make a wish and blow out candles to send a message to the Gods. The Ancient Greeks were also very big on hospitality, welcoming passing travellers into their homes and bestowing them with gifts, this was done in case the actual traveller was in fact a God in disguise.
Ancient Romans had Saturnalia, this being the festival in honour of the god Saturn in which Emperors would receive good luck tokens such as honey cakes, dried fruit and laurel twigs. The occassion would start on 17th December and last until 23rd December.
Moving to the Middle Ages, gift giving was a way of securing political or religious favours and were mainly in the form of food to show power and generosity of those giving. During this period books and manuscripts were also given and seen as valuable gifts due to being expensive to produce, this also showed commitment to the receiver of such a gift. Romantic gifts in this era became more popular, although somewhat strange compared to today’s romantic gifts, these included such things as love songs composed and performed by men seeking the affections of women, another unusual gift was sewing your own hair within garments of your loved one. Gifts of betrothals in the form of dowries were not uncommon in these times, this was the practice of a man presenting valuables such as coins, livestock or property to the father of his loved one to gain approval and her hand in marriage. In some countries this still exists in some form today.
Modern Gift Giving has come along way from those of the middle ages and is part of our everyday culture. Traditions and celebrations may differ from your own, but in essence they all express the same human goodwill, love, joy and appreciation of others.
Traditions and Celebrations – gifts on every occasion
Chinese New Year – Is the biggest celebration in China which lasts for almost 2 weeks. Red represents wealth and prosperity, therefore all gifts should be wrapped in red wrapping paper and any money gifts placed in red envelopes.
Italian Weddings – These are celebrated with the gifting of money to the happy couple, but strangely enough during this celebration the giver of the gift also receives a gift of sorts, this is where the groom’s tie is cut into many pieces and the wedding guests each buy a piece of the tie with the money going to the bride and groom to financially help them with their future life together. The guests then have a souvenir to remind them of the special occasion.
Seven*Five*Three – Is a popular festival held in Japan which marks the birthdays of Japanese children who reach the ages of 3,5, and 7. Many children in Japan never reached these ages so this celebration is for those that do and is marked by a visit to a shrine were they receive sweets from the priest, meaning the children reaching these ages get to celebrate their birthday twice in one year.
Diwali – Is the festive of light held in India, which is celebrated every year and lasts for 5 days, this is India’s biggest festival and the most important holiday of the year and marks the celebration of good over evil. During this celebration gifts are exchanged on the 4th day between family and friends, the usual gifts presented during this festival are gift hampers and traditional Indian sweets.
Russia – Who wouldn’t want to be a child in Russia attending a birthday party? All children attending the party receive a gift as well as the birthday boy or girl, these gifts are hung from a washing line and each child gets to pick one to take home with them, the birthday boy or girl will also hand out sweets to their classmates.
Middle East – Generosity and hospitality are well-known among Arabs and gift giving is an important part of their culture. Family events are special and always include their extended family, so these celebrations are always big and seen as an act of bringing people together. When being invited to visit someone’s home a gift is presented again showing the Arabs generous nature, during religious occasions the giving of gifts is even extended to neighbours that a family may not be that familiar with, in doing so this promotes and maintains relationships with all those around them.
Communicating With A Gift – says it all
What’s the importance of giving a gift? Gifts are ways of communicating, showing feelings of love, joy, happiness or appreciation. Through time gift giving has always been a part of life from before cavemen to current day, it gives us feelings of warmth, happiness and helps improve our well-being, hence why the giving of gifts has stood the test of time. Making connections with people gives us a sense of purpose and a feeling of satisfaction. The act of gift giving triggers feelings not only within the receiver but also within the giver, and although gift giving differs widely from culture to culture, with many unusual and varied gifts being seen during these celebrations, festivals and traditions, the emphasis still remains the same…..communicating.
Having said all this, consider the enhanced feelings of your loved ones, family, friends or colleagues, and even those of yourself, when you present them with an unusual gift. Be different, be unconventional, be unique!