The Concept of Gifts – Tracing its History
Back when we were kids, we vividly remember those birthdays which were celebrated so fondly with friends and families, but we all know very well what the best part was – opening the gifts of course. You couldn’t wait till the guests went home and you could finally have them all to yourself. Well! Times have changed and it may be so that you aren’t getting as many gifts as you used to when you were kid, but do you know what has remain unchanged? The concept of gifting!
Gifting ideas have changed, gifting culture has evolved but what has remained unchanged is the concept behind it, which is to make someone feel special, to make someone feel loved. A gift is more than just a thing; it’s a gesture, one which shows that a person is cared for and is being missed by someone whom they love. But is that all there is to the story? Do gifts come confined to these limited concepts?
Image Credit – Google Image, nbcnews.com
If so, then why did Shah Jahan take the pain of building Taj Mahal as a parting gift to his beloved Mumtaz? If so then why did France give US the Statue of Liberty as a gift on the 100th anniversary of Declaration of Independence? And first things first, where did the concept of gifts come from? How did gifting culture come into existence?
Historical Origins – How and Where It Started?
Some say that tradition of giving gifts can be traced back to the primitive civilizations. If that rings the word ‘cavemen’ in your mind, then you’re right. We are indeed talking about cavemen. Historians believe that cavemen often brought stones or bones back from their hunting and gave them as presents to their family or other members of their tribes as a gesture of goodwill, love and care. While present for family showed a caveman’s capability to care and support his family, present for a tribe member was a gesture of friendship or appreciation of a job well-done.
But we are talking about prehistoric era, which means there is hardly any physical record but what historians do know for sure is that the Egyptians were the ones who usually started celebrating by offering gifts. It is said that the extravaganza of gifts could be seen during a Pharaoh’s coronation day, the day which was deemed more important than his own birthday. But the actual trendsetters of gifting culture were the Greeks.
Image Credit – Google Image, talesofancientegypt.blogspot.com
The modern-day tradition of blowing out candles and visiting the birthday boy or girl with good wishes and gifts are said to have been pioneered by ancient Greeks. The Greeks believed that evil spirits troubled a person on his or her birthday but the spirits could be ward off with the help of candles, gifts and well wishes. So now you know where the tradition of blowing candles and ‘make a wish’ comes from!
Evolution of Gifting Culture
As the eras and ages went on to transform, so did the concept of gifts and gifting culture. The Middle Age is said to be filled with romantic gifts and not just physical presents mind it. Men wrote poems, composed songs and even performed to profess their love for their beloved. Romantic gifts consisted of some weird ones too like sewing one’s strand of hair onto garments.
But, the change became vivid when gifts started pouring in as religious and political favours. Wealth and materials exchanged among kings, lands being gifted to lords and peasants gifted with surplus food for their families. In Native American culture, a traditional feast known as ‘Potlatch’ was started. This feast took place in all important occasions including marriages, births and even funerals. It is said that Potlatch emphasised more importance on the gift-giver and the more lavish the gift, the higher status that person achieved in the social hierarchy.
But, Why to Know All This in the First Place?
Interesting question indeed! Why should we be bothered with history of gifts, and why to know its origin in the first place? Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest US presidents, once said, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.”
So, so true! Gifting ideas and culture might have changed drastically in the modern times but knowing its history will help us to latch on to the genuineness of the culture.
Nowadays, gifting seems to have become more of an obligation. Gifts are bought simply because they have to be. Our ancestors started the tradition with certain beliefs and emotions but with its evolution, the emotions seem to have evaporated. Nowadays, people gift each other with coupons to be redeemed, cash and sometimes something store-bought (which is more of a hollow gesture) but ancient times saw people working hard on gifts.
Image Credit – Google Image
Hours spent on stitching garments with one’s own hands, mothers knitting sweaters for their little ones, bags, jewellery, hand-made cutlery and pottery and of course, days spent on preparing for feasts with delicious foods, but in this whole rush of modernization, the true concepts seems to have been lost.
Knowing history will keep us glued to its originality. Knowing history will help us go back to the roots and help us realize that gifts are more than mere things. Knowing history will help us realize the beauty of handmade gifts and the warmth and affection crafted with it. Fall is almost here and the world is just getting started with the festive season. This festive season, let’s embrace our history and honour the true tradition of gifting culture.