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There are so many joyous and wonderful reasons to give gifts and questions that remain. Why do we give gifts? What is the history of gift-giving? Does it have a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface? Historians trace the origins of gifting to Roman and Greek culture at least 2,000 years ago. The Romans gave sacrifices and votive offerings as thanks or requests for blessings or good fortune. The Greeks gave agathos (pronounced ah-gah-thos) — meaning “good” in Greek — which were tokens of appreciation for services rendered, assistance given, or any other noble act performed by another person. This article will explore the history of gift-giving and why we exchange gifts like Birthday Gift Baskets today.
Ancient Origins of Gift Giving
The gifts of today are nothing like those of ancient times. Throughout the ages, gift-giving has evolved alongside human culture and society. The earliest gifts were nothing more than tokens of appreciation, like small stones or pebbles — a symbolic gesture rather than anything of high value. The roots of gift-giving can be traced back to early humans and the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Daily survival was the priority, and people had few resources or possessions. The earliest gift-giving was likely as a way to show appreciation for a helpful action, thanks for the assistance, or even to seal a deal. Throughout the ages, survival and daily life were hard, and resources were scarce. Earliest, there were gifts for appreciation for a helpful action, thanks for the assistance, or even to seal a deal.
The Dark Ages
There was no organized gifting or exchange of gifts during the Dark Ages. The economy was in dire straits, feudalism emerged, and poverty was widespread. Little was produced, little trade, and few people could afford to give gifts. When feudalism took hold, the exchange of gifts and luxury items became more common, especially to curry favor with the upper class. Feudal lords and knights often gifted each other with armor, weapons, and other items they used in battle or while hunting.
Renaissance and Feudalism
During the Renaissance, people began to produce gifts once again — and the gift-giving tradition returned, at least among the rich and powerful. Nobles and the upper class gave lavish gifts, such as jewelry, books, Birthday Gift Baskets, and decorative items, to symbolize their wealth and influence. The exchange of gifts during this era of feudalism reached its peak. Noblemen exchanged gifts, such as swords encrusted with jewels and armor, as a sign of gratitude for services rendered or favors granted. Kings exchanged sophisticated gift assortments — as a sign of friendship and loyalty to other rulers.
The Victorian Era
As the Industrial Revolution began to take hold, the gift-giving tradition shifted. As urbanization increased and society evolved, gift-giving became more common among ordinary people. The Industrial Revolution brought an influx of new technology, and those who operated the machines began to earn more. Those who worked in factories, mines, and other industries began to receive gifts, such as decorative items, gift boxes of wine, and small tokens of appreciation. At the same time, industrialists and business owners gave gifts to workers. This was common as a way to build loyalty and encourage production. The Victorian era also saw a rise in gift exchanges, such as Christmas and New Year’s parties.
The 20th Century — Big Changes
During the first half of the 20th century, the gift-giving and exchange continued to evolve. After the Great Depression, people once again exchanged gifts, but somewhat sparingly, as resources were still limited. During World War II, gift-giving was sparse as the country prioritized wartime efforts and rationed goods. However, by the mid-1900s, gift-giving was prevalent once again. As society became more industrialized and employed mass production, it became easier for companies to produce and distribute goods — including gifts. As a result, the 20th century saw a rise in gift-giving among both the rich and poor.
The history of gift-giving dates back thousands of years and is rooted in the beliefs and values of ancient cultures. Gift giving has its roots in a variety of traditions, including those surrounding religious celebrations and harvest times. Gift-giving has evolved, and the purposes of gift exchanges have changed. While gift-giving is often associated with goodwill, thanks, and friendship, it can also serve to commemorate special occasions, such as births, marriages, and important milestones.
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