Gifts are a common occurrence in our lives. From wedding anniversaries to birthdays, graduation presents to retirement recognition, it seems there is literally a gift for every single occasion. But where exactly did the practice of gift-giving originate, and how did it evolve into the complex art that it is today?
From Humble Beginnings
In its beginnings, the practice of gift-giving was much less a luxury, and far more a necessity. In the times of early man, gifts began as things as simple as food sources, and eventually materials gained through hunting that could be shared with another for warmth.
If a prehistoric man were to, say, successfully hunt a small creature in the jungles, he could offer some of the meat from those spoils to someone to gain sustenance. Similarly, he could offer a portion of the hide for someone to use as a blanket, or cloth, to sleep under during the night to stay warm. So although many of us associate today’s gifts with luxuries, at their start, gifts began as something far more practical, as almost a means of survival.
All Good Things Change
From there, prehistoric men and women began offering more intricate items as gifts to one another. Having gradually developed the technology necessary for the creation of tools, they were able to drill holes in things like bone or teeth, and present them to one another to be worn as decorative jewelry or adorned for certain ceremonies. This saw gift-giving slowly but surely moving away from the practical and more into the realm of something simply to be enjoyed.
Symbolism & Loyalty
Eventually, gifts began to be used to indicate status in a given tribe or clan, as well as to illustrate one’s loyalty to a given group of peoples. Leaders were often showered with gifts from their subjects, and would adorn themselves with those presents to indicate their elevated position within the group, and subsequently, their power.
Additionally, gifts were utilized by helping members of certain bodies of people show their allegiance to their respective association. Think of today’s standards, for example. It is not uncommon for someone to purchase a necklace symbolizing of religion for someone they love, not only recognizing the value that individual places upon their faith, but also allowing the receiver to subtly communicate that devotion to others around them.
Origins around the World
Devotion seems to be the integral component of what lies at the heart of the practice of gift-giving. Be it practical, or extravagant, it is the receiver of the gift that is most important, and that is the message that the giver is ultimately trying to communicate to them.
During the Age of the Egyptians, the rise of the pharaohs saw construction of one of our great wonders of the world, and the pyramids were packed with gifts and luxuries that these ancient rulers could bring with them into the afterworld. In Ancient Greece, a Greek soldier might be gifted a shield from his wife or neighboring townsmen, allowing him to both show his allegiance, as well as fight for it (serving as more of a practicality).
There exist many beautiful, as well as unique, examples of gift-giving around the world that serve both practical as well as impractical purposes. The Taj Mahal also comes to mind. But, all are wonderful in nature, many having survived throughout the years.
Why Gifts Continue to Resonate with People Today
There exists a fundamental, almost biological need for us to gift those we love special presents for a singular reason: as humans, we possess the innate need to connect with one another. Be it in proximity, via message, or simply by offering up an expression of our love, gifts communicate care and allow us to connect with important people in our lives.
Gift-giving will certainly continue on its course of natural evolution, and no matter what direction that evolution takes, gifts will always remain a powerful expression of our love to those important people in our lives.