A Gift Worth Giving

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History of Gift Giving on Special Occasions

Gift giving on special occasions is probably one of the most universal customs, and has become a very important part of our daily lives. Whether commemorating an important achievement, celebrating a milestone, or simply expressing feelings of love and friendship, most of us have given a gift at some point in our lives. So why are gifts so important to us? The history of the practice can help to shed some light.

Gifts in Ancient Rome

While it’s thought that humans have been giving each other gifts since the dawn of our kind for bartering or status purposes, there is no real evidence of the practice until the time of Ancient Rome, when people exchanged gifts during the Roman New Year celebrations. In the beginning, these gifts were token and symbolic, such as gifts of food, spices and other practical items.

While this practice was voluntary and probably used for developing strong connections between communities, it wasn’t long before Roman emperors began demanding lavish and special gifts from the citizens. If a gift wasn’t quite up to code, the giver would be publicly humiliated by the emperor — probably where the practice of giving gifts to gain favour with the boss started!

Gifts in Christianity

While every culture will have its own views on how religion and gift giving became connected with each other, the western notion of giving gifts is deeply ingrained in the Christian faith. Even though giving gifts was already popular around the time Christianity began spreading, it was the act of the Three Wise Men bearing gifts to the infant Jesus that solidified the place of gift giving in religious culture. This practice has evolved into Christmas gift giving.

Gifts in the Victorian era

In the Victorian era, the practice of gift giving became closer to what we know it as today. Following the years of decline in Europe, the Victorians soon reinvented the idea of exchanging gifts by using it as an opportunity to unite with family and other allies, as well as to give thanks for good fortune. Instead of serving some practical purpose, gifts became an expression of kindness and gratitude, and had a far more emotional purpose.

Even so, when it came to feelings of love and passion, it was improper to display emotions freely, which is how the practice of giving flowers became popular. By giving flower baskets to a secret love, a person could sum up their exact feelings by choosing the right types of blooms.

Gifts in modern society

These days, there is a variety of opportunities to give a gift — housewarming, celebrating, weddings, baby showers, get well, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s/Father’s Day, birthdays; the list goes on. Santa Claus has become the ultimate gift giver, and entire industries have been formed around our desire to buy gifts for each other.

While there are many ways to explain this explosion in gift giving, many people believe it provides a way to keep our relationships strong, especially with increased time pressures at work and at home. These days, we can show a friend, relative or lover that we cherish them even when we don’t see them very often simply by having a gift basket delivered to their door. We may not have the time to spend hours visiting and chatting like in the old days, but we can at least send a gift to the people we love to let them know we care.