Gift-giving has been around for thousands of years. The entire basis of human civilization depends on social relations, and there's no surprise that man is a social creature. Our dependence on one another is more than a means of safety and security; it ensures that our bonds transcend the realm of time, and stay everlasting.
We thrive in each other's company and use gift-giving as a means to express our feelings, emotions, and thoughts. Whether we give gifts as a token of love, for appreciation, to show gratitude, or to make someone feel better, the art of giving gifts is engrained in our DNA.
To understand where this gift-giving tradition comes from, we must go back in time to look at its origin and understand how it has become so integral to us as a species.
From the Cavemen
We are the descendants of cavemen, and whether we like it or not, their values and traditions have been passed on to us through time. Gift-giving is one such tradition. It's a human activity that dates back to our species way before the advent of civilizations.
Cavemen would give gifts to one another to express their appreciation and affection. These cavemen would give presents to show their dominance, where the gift symbolized a caveman's ability to provide for and support his family, gain respect, power, and the attraction of females.
However, their gifts were naturally different and primitive; they would gift things like tree barks, animal teeth, or stones that could be used as ornaments in necklaces.
Ancient Egyptians and the Tradition of Gift Giving
The ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to make a tradition out of gift-giving. They would routinely gift presents to their pharaohs on their coronation, which was considered to be their birthday. This stemmed from the belief was they were transformed into Gods as they descended upon the throne, making this occasion an important point in their lives.
The pharaohs were also given gifts every time they built pyramids for their afterlife. Some of the gifts given to royalty included crops, grains, flowers, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and even money.
Ancient Egyptians also had a tradition of burying gifts with the deceased as they believed that these gifts would help the dead transition into their afterlife with ease and comfort. Wealthy members of the society were buried with expensive, more elaborate gifts, while ordinary citizens were given everyday items like food and cutlery.
Ancient Greeks: The Trendsetters
Influenced from the Egyptian cultures, the Greeks soon followed the tradition of celebrating the birthday of a God. Birthdays are a universal celebration throughout the world; they are seen in every culture, and they always revolve around gifts. This expression of gifts on birthdays is believed to have originated from ancient Greece, where people held the religious belief that evil spirits haunted the birthday person.
So, people would visit that person and bring along gifts and good wishes to protect them from evil spirits. Candles were also lit for the same reason: blowing candles and making a wish was a way of sending one's message to the Greek Gods.
Ancient Greece also had a tradition to welcome travelers into one's home with gifts, just in case they were Gods in disguise (The Greeks were very religious!). They also used gifts to show emotions, strengthen relationships, and offer help.
Ancient Rome and the Gift Giving Tradition
The Roman culture revolved around reciprocity. Although the traditions of Rome were influenced by Greek society, they were more thoroughly practiced here than in Greece. Romans, for example, had annual birthday celebrations while Greeks celebrated birthdays of Gods yearly.
In Rome, the gift-giving culture was so deeply rooted that they had a legally recognized institution of patronage where a patron, the protector, benefactor and sponsor, would have a client of an inferior social class. The former would help and favor the client, building a strong bond between both (or a group). These patrons would exchange gifts for their clients, assist them in legal matters, help them financially, provide food and clothing for them.
Romans did, however, give gifts and favors for motives. There was no notion of selflessness and charity back then (which later appeared with the emergence of Christianity). They frequently used gift exchanges to form strong bonds, including those of love, trust, and affection (for example, Cicero's friendship with Hortensius).
The Middle Ages and the Evolution of Gifts
From a way to appease gods and to appreciate one another, gifting tradition changed toward a more political nature. In the middle ages, gifts were used to strengthen and foster religious beliefs, celebrate family milestones, political favors to those in charge, and forging alliances. The tradition of gift exchanges on New Year's also originated around this era, where foods were gifted to symbolize generosity and power.
They also gifted books and manuscripts to one another as they were expensive back then. It was common to see rulers giving gifts to other rulers, for family members to exchange gifts with one another, and for people to give freely to those less fortunate.
The Middle Ages also saw a sharp rise in romantic endeavors. Romantic gifts were often given from men to women, with men presenting women with personalized garments or performing love songs to win over women. They also had a tradition of sewing one's hair into the clothes of their loved ones!
Dowry arose out of the middle ages as well. Dowry was a gift of property, livestock, money, and other valuables that a man would give the father of the woman he wanted to marry. This way, he could win the approval of his potential spouse's father.
The Native American Culture and Gifting
For thousands of years, "Potlatch" was practiced in the native American culture that lasted several days. It was a gift-giving feast that was a part of many different occasions, including weddings, deaths, births, and more.
The ceremony focused greatly on the gift giver and not the receiver; it was to reaffirm and establish the status of the gift giver, with the attention on how expensive the gift was. The more expensive the gift, the higher the status of the gift giving individual. This made gift giving an important tradition in native America.
Gifting in the Modern Day
Although over the years traditions have changed, gift-giving remains integral even today. Each culture in our world has its unique celebrations and gifting traditions that are all about goodwill, appreciation, and love.
The Chinese celebrate Chinese New Year for two weeks. The beginning of the year is all about giving gifts wrapped in red wrapping paper, and money is put in red envelopes because red is the color of wealth and prosperity for the Chinese. Colors like black, white, and blue are avoided as they're associated with death.
Wedding gifts are a common tradition, but Italy has taken it up a notch. The groom's tie is cut into many pieces, and the guests buy them. The money collected goes to the couple as a symbol of starting their new life together, a little financial help!
A popular celebration in Japan is a festive called 'seven five three' where the Japanese children aged 3, 5, and 7 are taken to a shrine and given sweets. This is because years ago, many Japanese children would simple pass away before reaching these ages.
Diwali is the biggest gift-giving event in India, where good is celebrated over evil. The gifts are exchanged on the 4th day of the event and symbolize joy.
Russia has a pretty cool birthday tradition for children where every child gets to feel special. Children get to play a game where gifts are hung from a clothesline, and every child gets to decide which present to take home.
The Arab world is promotes a gift-giving culture. Arabs have celebrations all year round, and gifting is a common occurrence. Because hospitality and friendliness are a given for them, they make gift-giving an act to bring each other together and reflect their graciousness. So, birthdays, births, marriages, including religious festivities like Ramadan, and eid are celebrated every year. Neighbors also get gifts, even if you don't know them!
Their generosity knows no end. Even when you visit someone's home, you may end up getting a gift. Moreover, because Arabs have extended families and strong ties, celebrations often include everyone and lots of gifts!
So, Should We Give Gits?
Over the years, considerable research has been done on the feeling of well-being that occurs during gift-giving. A study conducted at the National Institute of Health measured brain activity among those that received and gave gifts. It turns out, in both cases the reward centers of the brain were lit up! This suggests that our brains love giving and receiving gifts.
Giving gifts makes us like each other more, and so, it's ideal to engage in this activity more often!
Gifts Make Us Happy
According to a study conducted by Michael Norton and colleagues at Harvard Business School, giving money to someone else lifted the spirits of participants more than spending the money on themselves, even though the participants expected higher happiness levels for spending on themselves.
Gifting is Good for Our Health
Gifts can impact our physical health too. Much research conducted that links gifting and generosity to better physical health, even among the old and sick.
Stephen Post, in his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People,has shown that gifting or giving increases the health of those battling with chronic illness. Researchers suggest that giving can improve physical health because it reduces stress, which is linked to being the cause of a variety of health problems.
It Promotes Social Connection
And what are humans, if not social animals? When we give gifts, we're very likely to be rewarded back, sometimes by the receiver and sometimes by someone else. This exchange of gifts promotes feelings of appreciation, trust, and cooperation and makes our bonds with one another strong. This, in turn, has a positive effect on our mental well-being and physical health.
An Increased Sense of Gratitude
Whether you give a gift or receive it, the whole process of gift-giving can bring forth feelings of gratitude. Gratitude is a crucial aspect of happiness, good health, and strong social connections.
Expressing gratitude to one another helps us be more optimistic, feel better about our lives, and strengthen the connection both parties have.
Giving causes a ripple effect; when one person is generous to another, it often inspires others to be generous to them. Altruism is contagious and has been linked to higher levels of oxytocin that bring forth feelings of happiness, warmth, and connection.
Why Choose Amour Prints?
Gift giving is more than a tradition; it's about the gesture, warmth, and affection one holds for another. At Amour Prints, we understand the language of love and know it demands to be felt and shown. What other way is there to let your loved one know how important they are to you, that they're constantly being thought of, than with a customized gift?
At Amour Prints, we take love as seriously, and so, we have an extensive variety of custom canvas prints that you can choose to gift your loved one. Our canvases are made with high-quality ink and come with a strong wooden back frame. With their UV-resistant coating, you can be sure of them lasting years on end without any defects.
Our range of personalized canvas prints includes romantic couple canvas art, custom Spotify music art canvas, custom baby Spotify music canvas, couple canvas prints, wedding song lyric canvas art, love custom music art canvas, and more.
If you don't know which canvas print is for you, then take a canvas quiz with us today and find out!
To give your gift-gifting a personal touch, contact us today.