Monday, March 17, 2008

The History of Gift Giving

Gift giving has symbolic meaning in nearly every culture from all corners of the globe for as long as mankind has existed. From the first time a father gave his child a carved doll to the gold ring given to a bride, gift giving symbolizes many things: love, respect, sympathy, flattery and appreciation.


Ancient Greek mythology gives credit to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, as the original bearer of the classic gift of love, a rose, to Eros, the god of love.

Such symbolism has pervaded the giving of flowers as gifts for centuries and although the symbolic meaning of many flowers is lost the act of giving flowers has never waned.

Another famous bearer of gifts was the Queen of Sheba who notably gave the richest king of his time, King Solomon, a lavish gift of gold, balsam oil and precious stones in exchange for his wisdom. The gold alone was worth more than 46 million dollars in today's money.

Elaborate gifts as tokens of political friendship are not exclusively an ancient custom. The United States of America has one of the most iconic gifts of international friendship as the symbol of their pride of freedom. The Statue of Liberty was a gift of friendship from France in 1886. Gifts between nations have continued to be a custom up to our current day.

The act of giving wedding gifts is proficient in many cultures and may have developed from the dowry given by or to the bride or her parents as part of the marriage arrangement. Depending on the country the dowry may have been given by the bride's parents to the bride or the groom or given by the groom's family to the bride's family as a form of payment for their daughter.

Giving cattle to the bride's family was a tradition for the people of the Sudan. Sephardic Jewish brides were given lavish gifts of jewelry from both families and Eastern Europeans of the Middle Ages collected many of the household goods required for a new bride during the years up to her wedding day.

Many of the gift giving customs associated with Christian holidays are rooted in the much older customs of ancient nations that worshipped other gods. Combining these pagan rituals with Christian teachings made it less difficult for those nations to adapt to a new religion.


Gift giving has often been associated in Western culture with the celebration of events or holidays. While giving social gifts has gained popularity in recent years it does not compare to the gift giving culture of Japan.

Japanese people are well known for their graciousness and this extends to the common act of gift giving. In Japan the presentation of a gift is as of much importance as the gift itself. Showing respect to the receiver, even small tokens are often wrapped with great care and attention. Accepting gifts is an act of extreme appreciation on the part of the receiver and humility from the giver, presented and accepted in both hands.

While gift giving is common to most cultures, the act of giving gifts can be quite different from one place to another. Many business people are advised on the appropriateness of giving gifts when doing business in foreign countries since the act of giving gifts is often closely tied to the traditions and cultures of different people worldwide.

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