Lexy

A Brief History of Gifting

Written on Thursday 29th July, 2021

Gift giving, or 'gifting' if you like is as normal to us as Marmite on toast...wait, that is a bit weird but, well….you catch my drift! It is a normal everyday occurrence and covers a multitude of events and occasions. Baby showers, weddings, birthdays, graduations, house warming, new baby, get well soon, new job…...I could go on! To be honest it would be more difficult to think of a situation where gift giving wasn't appropriate or the norm, as let's face it, even with funerals and bereavements it is often customary to gift flowers to the bereaved or for the funeral itself.

However, despite it being inherently normal to bestow someone with a gift for an occasion (and sometimes expected) it must have started somewhere. Mustn't it?! And is gift giving always about bestowing the recipient with a heartfelt gift? Or are there other reasons behind why we give gifts, or maybe there are other agendas behind the practices?

Primitive Civilizations, Ancient Egypt & Ancient Greece

Gift giving can be traced back to primitive civilizations and even the animal kingdom! Animals have been observed presenting a gift to a mate, or even humans for example. This is especially apparent amongst our feathered friends in the crow family in particular. 
The Ancient Egyptians are who we can thank for the custom of birthday presents though. The Pharaohs were celebrated for their coronation as this was believed to be the day they transformed into Gods rather than mere mortals. This then became their new birthday over and above their actual date of birth as this date signifies the day they began their new life as a God. As a result, people bestowed gifts upon the Pharaoh to celebrate this significant day. Egyptians would also be buried with gifts following their death, as it was believed that these gifts would help the person in the afterlife. These gifts varied depending on the wealth of the individual and their social status. The richer people would have more elaborate gifts buried with them whereas poorer people would have more basic gifts. However they tended to be more useful gifts to help with the afterlife such as bowls, tools, clothes etc.

Cavemen also gave gifts to each other, but here shows our first example of how gift giving can carry somewhat of an 'agenda'. Some gifts were intended to be sentimental or a keepsake, in the same way we may bestow gifts in the current day to represent love, friendship and well wishes. However, many others were gifted to display dominance and control over others. Items such as rocks or teeth were intended to be given as sentimental gifts as these were often engraved and given as a personal item much in the way we would give jewellery today. Other more useful gifts would be presented to females from men in a bid to make themselves appear more attractive to them by displaying their ability to provide. It would also make them appear more important to other cavemen by asserting their dominance and 'wealth' with this display of power and success. This displays the flip side of gift giving in that it is not always done for sentimental or personal reasons, or even due to human kindness. It can also be done to emphasise and boost social status.

Gift giving in the Middle Ages also has displays of the hidden agenda. Food held value in the Middle Ages for obvious reasons, and therefore many gifts were food based. As above, this would hold feelings of power and wealth and was also often used as an example of a bribe with people giving gifts of food to help sway decisions, to get ahead of others or to receive favours. Another example of how gift giving isn't always done with positive intentions….!

Books were also common gifts during the Middle Ages and were seen as a symbol of dedication and commitment, and also wealth. Books back in those days would have been very expensive due to the time and work that would need to be put into them. If you think that each book would have been hand made, bound and written, it is easy to see why they would be so expensive and associated with conveying feelings of commitment. These were often given as romantic gifts as a display of affection.

The Middle Ages also provide us with another example of an alternative reason for gift giving or another 'hidden agenda' in the form of the dowry. A dowry involved placing a value on a woman in exchange for her hand in marriage. This exchange would be arranged for gifts of money, valuables or livestock, sometimes even property. It would also signify ability to provide for a future wife and also your suitability. This is because the potential suitor would name his price to the family and therefore make known his opinion of 'worth' of his future wife to her family. It would then be up to the family to decide whether this price met their idea of her value and whether they thought he would be a suitable suitor and able to provide for her in the future by displaying his ability to provide a generous dowry. The use of the dowry has been seen in other cultures and civilizations over the centuries and is still apparent today in some areas of the world.

The Ancient Greeks also play a big part in this history, and also the customs of birthdays. They believed that evil spirits would visit on your birthday, and therefore the idea of presenting the person with gifts and good wishes was a way to help prevent these visits. The blowing out of candles is also thanks to Greece as the act of the blowing out of the candle was to send a message to the Gods to protect the person from the evil spirits on their birthday! Gift giving in general was popular in Ancient Greece as gifts were often used to build relationships and also keep the Gods on your side. People who visited your home should be presented with gifts, just in case they were a God in disguise!

And let's not forget a very well known early example of gift giving…….the gifts from the Three Wise Men brought to bestow upon Jesus after his birth. These gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were to represent kingship on earth, holiness and death. Or a more generalised way of looking at these representations are as virtue, healing and suffering. Frankincense is actually an incense, and myrrh is used as an embalming oil. On the surface they appear odd choice of gifts for a newborn baby if you have looked at our baby shower gift ideas blog (!), but a clear example of how gift giving can be less about the gift itself and more about what the gift represents to the recipient and others.

And the psychology?

As we have seen from gift giving historically, there is often a reason or motive if you like, behind the act of gift giving. Aside from the personal and intersocial connotations of gift giving, there are many circumstances where gifting is active but not as obvious. This is still apparent today whether the gift is part of a more 'sinister' bribe or as part of a hidden agenda, or more likely as an incentive. Such as a free gift in a store once you buy over a certain amount, or on your second purchase for example. This is still a part of gift giving but without the personal touch or sentiment attached to giving a gift to someone close to you for a particular life event and often with the intention of enticing you to buy more. Gift giving is essentially so ingrained into everyday life and so normal, that we often don't acknowledge much past the obvious gift wrapped parcels as being associated with the act of gift giving. The actual psychology behind gift giving is very complex, and perhaps something you have never given much conscious thought to! More on that later…

Start your wish listit's completely free

Similar Articles

The Gift of Giving

The Gift of Giving

I bet like me, when you think of gift giving, the thoughts of neatly wrapped parcels, big bunches of flowers, high street stores and the stress of 'I don't know what to buy' spring to mind.

Read more

Gift advice for "her" birthday

Gift advice for "her" birthday

If you willingly clicked on the link to this article, it's probably because you're stumped on what to buy your significant other. I'm writing this piece in the context of my own girlfriend's birthday, but you could apply this advice to any holiday or relationship.

Read more

Why it's okay to want

Why it's okay to want

For a long time, I've been afraid of recognition, praise, and gifts. I criticize myself endlessly. I expect better of myself, and I think - no, believe - that gifts and money are wasteful.

Read more

Valentines Day in isolation

Valentines Day in isolation

As we approach a Valentine's Day made distinct by social distancing, it's time to prepare a celebration that renews passion between lovers, but also reminds those other acquaintances what they mean to us.

Read more

Holiday Revelation

Holiday Revelation

For someone who wrote for a gift-list site, I admittedly was never one for giving gifts. Call me frugal, call me dull, call me a grouch, call me what you will, but I would call myself content.

Read more

New Year, New Gift-List

New Year, New Gift-List

It seems that every January starts the same: new goals, raised expectations, and enough motivation to finish a PAX wardrobe from IKEA even after you lost the instruction manual.

Read more

Holidays, by the books

Holidays, by the books

I think I speak for most people when I say the upcoming holiday season will be a quiet one - figuratively, of course. Mariah Carey will still blast out of every stereo in our house, and I assume your local shopping centre will have the same spirit.

Read more

Funding Your Next Holiday

Funding Your Next Holiday

As hard as Things to Get Me tries, sometimes gifting isn't easy. It's hard to tell what others want. Sometimes, it's hard to tell what you want! And sometimes, people don't want a gift at all.

Read more

Shopping for the Kid in You

Shopping for the Kid in You

Few of us are immune to retailer's many ploys to create artificial moods, myself included. I purchased my first pumpkin spice coffee last week because it came in an enticing orange container.

Read more

Halloween During Covid

Halloween During Covid

It's October! So not only does this mean (hopefully) crisp autumn mornings and darker nights drawing in, but it also means Halloween is approaching!

Read more

It's beginning to look a lot like virtual Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like virtual Christmas

Yes, I agree, it is too soon. The sun still shines. The birds haven't even started packing for the journey south. And rumor has it Santa is taking a vacation in Ibiza.

Read more

How to do back-to-school shopping when there's no school to go back to

How to do back-to-school shopping when there's no school to go back to

It's back to school, mid-covid. So what would a student need then? What should you be shopping for now? Well, here's my list.

Read more

Cut The Clutter

Cut The Clutter

I propose the following clutter-reducing, joy-spreading message: respect the wish list!

Read more

How to shop online with the world in mind

How to shop online with the world in mind

It's 2020, and these days you'd be hard pressed to find a company not taking strides to lighten their carbon footprint.

Read more

Mother’s Day Gift Ideas She’ll Love

Mother’s Day Gift Ideas She’ll Love

It's soon to be Mother's Day in the UK. Prosecco glasses will be clinking all around Britain when the big day comes as people toast to the special ladies in their lives.

Read more

Christmas Party Essentials

Christmas Party Essentials

'Tis the season and if you're the host of a Christmas party this year, your planning is probably well and truly underway. But if you've left it to the last minute - don't fear. We've got you covered with these quick tips!

Read more

How to save time and money at Christmas

How to save time and money at Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching, and the excitement is almost getting too much! The Christmas markets, the gifts, the lights and decorations, the mulled wine… all the lovely things that come along with the winter season are well and truly here.

Read more

Reasons to give a gift list a try

Reasons to give a gift list a try

My Mum and I have always put a lot of thought into buying gifts for one another. Birthdays and Christmas are exciting for us every single year, because we always go out of our way to make sure we get each other something we've never bought before.

Read more

Cool ideas for your next Halloween party

Cool ideas for your next Halloween party

Attending a Halloween party? If you want to bring a little present for the host, a bottle of something spiced would be perfectly on-theme and of course, go down a treat with the guests.

Read more

Baby Shower Party Games

Baby Shower Party Games

No baby shower is complete without a few games to bring all the guests together and have some fun!

Read more

Easy Fathers Day Present Ideas

Easy Fathers Day Present Ideas

As the Summer months draw closer, another special celebration is on the horizon, and as with most special celebrations, the choosing of gifts will be in order!

Read more

Why the act of gifting is important

Why the act of gifting is important

It's just a way of life. With birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, religious celebrations, housewarmings, births and just about any other special occasion you can think of - comes gifting.

Read more

Easter gifts that stand out

Easter gifts that stand out

Easter is a much-loved celebration here in the UK. With all the feasting, chocolate, gifts and of course, the glorious bank holiday weekend, it's no wonder why!

Read more

How to choose a Mother's Day gift that wows

How to choose a Mother's Day gift that wows

As the Spring season draws closer, you'll probably notice that we have a lot to celebrate over the next few months.

Read more

Last minute ideas for a thoughtful Valentine's Day gift

Last minute ideas for a thoughtful Valentine's Day gift

It's almost time for the annual celebration of love - Valentine's day! But are you prepared?

Read more

How to add value to cheap gifts

How to add value to cheap gifts

When things are tight, and your budget isn't huge - how can you add value to a cheap gift?

Read more

Hobby-based original Christmas gift ideas

Hobby-based original Christmas gift ideas

You're probably about half way through your Christmas shopping list and at that stage where you're stuck for ideas on the last few tricky people.

Read more

Christmas Countdown: Gift buying methods

Christmas Countdown: Gift buying methods

We're just weeks away from Christmas! That means it's time to get organized and start thinking about how you're going to get all those gifts for your family and friends.

Read more

Ways to bend the rules of gift giving

Ways to bend the rules of gift giving

Did you know that there are certain unspoken rules when it comes to present-giving? That's right - there's a whole gift-giving etiquette!.

Read more

How soon is too soon to start buying Christmas gifts

How soon is too soon to start buying Christmas gifts

Summer is slowly transitioning into Autumn and it's approaching that time of year when we start thinking about our Christmas plans.

Read more

What Should I Include In My Baby Wish List

What Should I Include In My Baby Wish List

Expecting a little one? I'm sure you already know you'll need a lot of stuff. Luckily, you're not expected to deal with that all by yourself and a baby gift registry is the best way to allow your friends and family to help you out with those all-important baby care items.

Read more

How to host the BBQ of the summer

How to host the BBQ of the summer

Summer has well and truly arrived with clear blue skies and lovely warm heat. That means one thing - it's barbeque season!

Read more

Beating the holiday blues with souvenirs

Beating the holiday blues with souvenirs

I recently returned from a holiday to Barbados. I've been many times before, but this visit was a little more sentimental to me.

Read more

Giving experiences as gifts

Giving experiences as gifts

Experiences can make incredible gifts - if you get them right. I like to give and receive experiences as presents and I find gifting them to be super useful when I really can't think of anything else to get someone.

Read more

How to be a better gift giver

How to be a better gift giver

I've always tried to be an overachiever when it comes to gift giving - there's nothing quite like seeing a person's face light up when they've opened a present from you that they love. Equally, the polite smile that spreads across your loved one's face when they're less than impressed with your gift is something I never want to be the recipient of, which also drives my determination to put a lot of thoughts into my gifts.

Read more

Reasons to give homemade gifts and how to get them right

Reasons to give homemade gifts and how to get them right

Not all gifts have to come with a hefty price tag to be special. In fact, some of the most touching and memorable gifts can be created by you, in the comfort of your own home, for hardly any money.

Read more

Don't forget these essentials if you want to throw an unforgettable party

Don't forget these essentials if you want to throw an unforgettable party

I've been to a lot of parties and thrown a fair few in my time. They take a lot of planning - and in the midst of figuring out where you're going to throw it, who you're going to invite and how you're going to decorate, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed.

Read more

Gift-buying on a budget: how to make the thought count

Gift-buying on a budget: how to make the thought count

I've had a lot of friends give birth over the last few years, and a subject that's popped up time and time again is push presents. 'He got you a what?' I exclaimed, the first time a friend had told me she'd been given one. But once she explained what a push present was, I instantly liked the idea of them.

Read more

Why cards are just as important as gifts

Why cards are just as important as gifts

I've kept every single card I've ever received since childhood. Maybe that's just a quirky habit of mine, but I can't ever bring myself to throw them away - there's something so special about them to me.

Read more

Lifting the lid on 'Push presents'

Lifting the lid on 'Push presents'

I've had a lot of friends give birth over the last few years, and a subject that's popped up time and time again is push presents. 'He got you a what?' I exclaimed, the first time a friend had told me she'd been given one. But once she explained what a push present was, I instantly liked the idea of them.

Read more

All the things to love about personalised gifts

All the things to love about personalised gifts

I love buying gifts. I think I love buying gifts more than I love receiving them! Here are some more wonderful reasons to love giving and receiving personalised gifts.

Read more

It's free always has been, always will be