The History of Gifting

Who doesn’t like getting gifts? That excitement of an upcoming event where you know you’ll be showered with not just one but so many gifts, with each gift containing something new to call your own. And while there would be some that you would totally go bonkers about, and wouldn’t wait a minute to show off to your friends, most of us dread the ones that we don’t particularly like. Probably you already have it, or don’t need it, but what counts is the thought and the effort the other person made just to see that smile on your face. The effort that speaks, “Here’s a gift to show you that we care…” And while all of us love to receive and give gifts on special occasions and celebrations, ever wondered where and how the ritual of gifting started? 

The practice of gifting is an age-old tradition and dates back to as far as we can remember. Not only its a way of expressing your feelings of gratitude, love, appreciation towards someone, but also helps cement deep connections amongst people. 

The history of gifting goes further back than the caveman. Considering our close evolutionary relationship to the primates, we were surprised when we found out that even Chimpanzees exchange gifts! The male Chimp gifts food to their female counterparts in hopes of mating with them. Going forward, our first human ancestors exchanged gifts on a very regular basis. As a way of showing affection or acknowledgement of efforts by the tribe member in the form of a gift was something that was prevalent. The gifts, however, were things like animal tooth, a unique stone that would be at times worn as part of the necklace.  The demonstration of a man’s generosity at gifting would be directly proportional to the chance of him finding a wife and building a family, which meant the more his ability to provide, the greater his chance at winning a wife. 

Coming to the civilizations that first practiced the art of gifting, the Egyptians gifted the Pharoahs on their coronation day, which was also considered as their ‘birth’ day. This was so since they believed that on this day, they transformed into ‘Gods’ and started a new life, thus making this day more special and elaborate than their own birthdays. They were also given gifts when they built massive pyramids for their afterlife. And the gifts given to royalty at that time included jewelry, crops, grains, mirrors and sometimes even money. 

The most relatable one would have to be with what the Greeks for sure. So now almost the entire world is well aware of how each one of us celebrate our birthdays. We light candles and give out gift right, well guess what! This very concept was first birthed by the Greeks. The ancient Greeks believed that evil spirits would haunt on the birthday person, so in order to ward off evil spirits and to protect them, people would visit and bring good wishes on the day of the person’s birthday. Furthering the process, they believed that lighting and blowing out the candles and henceforth making a wish was a way to send a message to the Gods. So now you know whom to thank for all the wishes you made on all your birthdays!

The middle ages was a time when gifts were given to show allegiance and to foster political and religious favours to those in charge. This was also a time when the concept of gifting on and around the New Year’s Day came into being. The widely acceptable gifts during this time came in the form of food to show generosity and power. Another thing we could be grateful to the people of olden times was the idea of gifting books and manuscripts as gifts as they were considered valuable, customizable and most importantly, expensive. They were so valuable and highly placed that it was often given as gifts from one ruler to another, from patrons to churches and monasteries, and sometimes as engagement gifts between families. Whosoever first started this tradition is sure to be blessed by many for doing so! 

And while giving out gifts sure requires a huge amount of time and effort to this day as well, there are times and days when you end up receiving a gift that just does not make sense at all. You wonder what the giver must be thinking and more so, now what is it that you can do with the gift and how to make sense of it. Well, while there must be innumerable good concepts of gifting that were invented back in the day, the tradition of gifting something weird, little creepy or something that is outright outrageous is not something new. A variety of gifts that may come across as a little offbeat at that time and would surely be considered the same today were love songs composed by men and performed in front of women, washbasins, personalized garments and sewing of strands of hair into your soul-mate’s clothes. 

And while sewing of hair onto your dearest ones clothing or receiving a washbasin may not be accepted with open arms and puppy eyes as it did back in the day, gift giving traditions and customs have continued yet evolved with time taking into consideration the current modern times. Each culture has its own unique celebrations and traditions that may vary from your own, but people and cultures across the world borrow aspects they find acceptable and fun to follow. 

It has been proven as a fact by psychologists around the world that giving and sending out gifts to people has greater emotional benefits on the giver than the receiver. It is the feeling of warmth, the feeling of spreading happiness around you that leaves emotionally stable thereby encouraging us to continue the practice. So, despite the fact that there are a myriad of cultures around the world, the similarity of the objective to spread happiness, to strengthen social ties, to preserve the traditions, no matter the gifts and the thought behind it, it is the ‘Gift’ itself that you give to your loved ones that matters the most.

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