If we were to say that opening up a gift – bright, inviting, and beautifully wrapped – was one of the most exciting feelings in the world, we wouldn’t be off the mark, would we? That glow on your face when somebody hands you a gift, the eagerness with which you remove the wrapping paper, and the uncontrollable joy that you experience when you see what’s inside … can anything else really beat this pleasure?
The only thing that comes remotely close is when you give a gift to someone you love. Their excitement becomes yours, their happiness rubs off you, and you can’t help match their dazzling smile with an equally stunning one on your face. How beautiful!
By the way, did you know that the practice of giving gifts, which is often dismissed by many as being too commercial or materialistic, pre-dates civilization itself? In fact, our cavemen ancestors would often exchange things like the tooth from an animal or an interestingly-shaped rock as a display of love and affection towards each other. Sometimes, these would be hung around the neck as a rudimentary ornament as well.
The History of Gift-Giving
The first civilization to give gifts were the ancient Egyptians. The freely exchanged gifts on a variety of occasions, ranging from dowry to the coronation of the pharaohs to preparation for the afterlife. Commonly exchanged items included crops, money, and jewelry.
By the middle ages, gifts had become a means to show allegiance in times of war or to buy the favor of the king. Rulers, families, churches, monasteries, all of them would gift books, manuscripts, coins, and livestock to each other. Personal gifts became more common and romantic gifts became the norm too. Ballads were composed by men and performed in front of the women who held their heart. Lovers even went so far as to sew a lock of their hair into their soulmates clothes!
Unique Modern Traditions
But these are old-time practices? What about modern times? What fascinating gifting practices prevail all over the world? By the looks of it, many.
For instance, during the Chinese New Year, gifts are wrapped in red wrapping paper because red is associated with prosperity and wealth. Blue, white, and black are avoided like the plague because they’re associated with funerals and deaths. Money, which is again put into a red envelope, is given in even numbers. However, the number 4 is avoided because that, too, is associated with death.
Italians have a fascinating tradition they observe in marriages. The groom’s tie is cut into tiny pieces and the guests buy them in exchange for money. Malaysians like to give the new couple money on their wedding, too, but they put a beautiful spin to this rather common practice. They fold the currency into origami flowers and cranes before presenting them to the couple.
But enough about marriages. What about birthdays?
If you especially love the tradition of giving and receiving birthday gifts, you have the ancient Greeks to thank for that. They believed that evil spirits would haunt the birthday boy (or girl) and carrying a gift (to go with the good wishes) would keep them safe. Making a wish and blowing out candles is yet another tradition that can be attributed to the Greeks. It was their way of sending their message and their gratitude to the Gods.
Fast forward to modern times, there are just as many gifting traditions related to birthdays in our society as well. Russia, for instance, doesn’t just give gifts to the birthday boy or girl. The hosts hang up gifts on a clothesline and every kid who attends a party gets a gift. Isn’t that fun?
In Japan, there’s a festival known as seven-five-three that’s celebrated every year. In olden times, children rarely used to survive past the ages of 3, 5, and 7, and that’s why, in modern times, children of these ages are taken a shrine and given special sweets by the priest. Imagine having two birthday celebrations every year. What lucky kids they are!
No matter what the nature of the occasion or the shape of the gift exchanged, the purpose across ages has remained the same – to spread happiness and strengthen relationships, and make someone feel special. So start picking out some gorgeous gifts and as the festive season rolls out, be prepared to make the occasion even more celebratory for someone you love.