Gift giving can be traced all the way back to the times of the ancient Greeks, and ancient Egyptians. The Greeks supposedly made one of the grandest gestures in ancient history and gave the Trojans a gift that changed their history. The Romans knew how to value themselves and each other based on possessions. Arguably one of the vainest men in history, Julius Caesar knew exactly what his weight in gold looked like and definitely did not accept gifts from others less than what he deemed he was worth. But let’s go back even further. Maybe a caveman gave a cavewoman a new club to defend herself with, or maybe he brought her a big pile of firewood so she can stay warm. Humans, including cavemen, are very social creatures so it stands to reason that showing someone your appreciation through material goods is almost an instinct. Modern-day psychology tells us that there are five love languages which include physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and for some people theirs is receiving gifts. This probably affirms the idea that there may be a primal element that makes people truly value receiving any gift, big or small.
Prehistoric and Ancient Gift-Giving
According to some researchers, in caveman culture, gift-giving was actually the norm. Historians have also speculated that within caveman tribes, gift-giving was a symbol of status where leaders took it upon themselves to show their subjects appreciation by giving them small tokens. Those gifts were relatively simple but were probably received with a lot of gratitude. As humans developed tools, gifts became more and more extravagant, which then reversed the roles between gift givers and receivers. In ancient Egypt and the cultures existing at the time gifts were mostly given to pharaohs and queens. The Romans also took this role reversal very seriously, if a peasant wanted to seem favorable in a leader or caesar’s eyes then this peasant was going to have to bring him or her something very special. The Romans also normalized the concept of giving good luck tokens as gifts. This almost split the meaning of gifts into two categories, and depending on the recipient you are either giving a gift to get something in return or you’re giving a gift just to show appreciation.
In Medieval times, giving presents and gifts became a symbol of allegiance and loyalty for some. In times of cultural and social shift, or during wars people would present the kings, or nobility with gifts so they know who is on their side. The Middle Ages are also when the concept of dowries became quite popular, so one family can give another the gift of like 12 goats in exchange for a daughter’s hand in marriage. Nowadays the concept of dowries still exists in some cultures, but the standard is probably not goats.
In modern times, it seems that gift-giving has become less symbolic of status, and balance may have been found between the giver and receiver. We now have gift-giving celebrations and holidays which give us the opportunity to show one another love and appreciation. We give Christmas presents, Valentine’s Day presents, birthday presents, and even sometimes Easter presents. Birthday planning & presents include buying gifts for brother at the nerd store, sister, wife or husband. We have holidays specifically for shopping, such as Black Friday and Boxing Day so we can shop the offers and treat ourselves and each other to new and beautiful items. We are certainly not at the end of the road when it comes to the meaning of gifts, as it appears that there has been quite a shift throughout the history of gifts and inevitably things will continue to change as society and culture change too.
- 2 other articles that are PDFs and I can’t be bothered to cite lmao