Why We Give: A Brief History of Gifting

Why We Give: A Brief History of Gifting

Why We Give: A Brief History of Gifting 1920 1080 The Conscious Professional

“The most truly generous persons are those who give silently without hope of praise or reward.” – Carol Ryrie Brink

For many years I have foregone giving and receiving personal gifts at Christmas. There are a number of reasons for this all of which roll into one idea about modern gift-giving at Christmas.

About seven or eight years ago, when I was in my mid-20s, I was finding the pressure of both affording Christmas gifts and selecting gifts that the ever-expanding pantheon of friends and family would actually use and enjoy, well… overwhelming. Stressful. Not at all fun. The other main reason was that, at the time, my friends and immediate family were all adults with income to spare. People who, if they wanted something or needed something, would go out and buy it. How do you gift something to someone who can buy whatever they want at any time?

I was an outlier in my family for requesting this for a while, but now my family have come around to not spending money on buying other people mountains of tathatround Christmas. This is in part due to the reasons above, but also due to the fact that, for us, Christmas is much more about spending time with one another, cooking together, hanging out… all that stuff, than new possessions. Also, in a world where many have so much material need, excessive frivolous spending doesn’t actually feel especially conscious or Christmassy.

Where Does Gift Giving Come From?

The reasons listed above all point, as stated, to one thing. In today’s world, where profit is king, we have kind of forgotten why we gave gifts in the first place.

The festive season hasn’t always been about multiple gifts, swapped at equivalent monetary value regardless of circumstances or personal wealth. The older generations used to give to younger generations, primarily on wedding days, in order to set them up for their lives with essentials when they were still too young to have much to their name. The principle was that, when that younger generation grew up, after they had accumulated their own wealth over many decades, they would then pay that forward to the generation under them, creating a circle of gift-giving.

Then the mid-20th century came along, capitalism crept in, and gift-giving exploded.

Sometimes You Take More Than You Give

It may feel like you are treating someone when you buy them an audacious gift or an abundance of stuff. However, if this person is not in a position to reciprocate your generosity you can trigger pressure, guilt, embarrassment or even shame on them. Gift giving can be such a minefield, and we would do well to think more consciously about how and why we exchange gifts at Christmas, and whether it is adding to the occasion or taking away.

A Few Thoughts On Mindful Ways to Give…
1. Secret Santa

My sister-in-law’s family does Secret Santa with whoever is going to be in their house on Christmas day. There is a budget set, and everyone receives and gives a single gift. This has numerous benefits. Spending a little more on one gift costs much less than having to cater to several people. The stress of thinking of what to buy for multiple people is gone. The day is not completely taken over by gifts… and so, there is more time to enjoy simply being together.

2. Ask

Don’t buy blindly. The worst thing, for me anyway, was receiving gifts that I had no use for. I had the awkwardness of performing elation, and the gift giver would have had the pressure of trying to know, magically, exactly what I wanted. Ask people what they want. Tell people what you want. Do a shortlist if you still want a surprise. Take some of the pressure and awkwardness away.

3. Agree on Budget

Gift giving can often mean spending the same on one another even if your financial statuses are hugely different. If you HAVE to swap gifts with everyone, maybe have a conversation about budget first.

4. Gifts to Share

Instead of single gifts, my family often each bring something to contribute to the celebration of the occasion. Maybe one person will bring a new board game, another will bring a cheese board, another might supply a fancy breakfast, another might buy everyone new slippers… and on and on.

By Chris Thomson


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