Origin Of Gifting
When did it start?
Wondering how and when the concept of gifting had started? Well, there is no correct answer as it differs from culture to culture. This dates back to the Stone Age (Cavemen’s era) and the Ancient Egyptian civilization. The gifts in the Stone Age were in the form of animal teeth & stones that looked unique, whereas the ancient Egyptians took a step further in showcasing their gift-giving tradition. They celebrated their pharaoh’s coronation day by presenting various gifts as they believed that they would turn into Gods and begin a new life. This was hugely acclaimed, and coffins of famous pharaohs inside the pyramids were buried with gold, crops, money, artifacts, clothes, etc.
This was later said to be followed by the Greeks and invented the tradition of celebrating birthdays. The celebration of birthdays originated because people believed that evil spirits would haunt the birthday person. Hence to prevent this, people would meet the person with gifts and well wishes to ward off the evil spirits. They even invented light candles for similar reasons as making a wish and blowing out candles signified a way of sending a message to the Gods.
Evolution of Gifting
In the middle ages, gifts were exchanged for political and religious favors to those in charge to show allegiance. The tradition of celebrating New Year’s Day also started with exchanging gifts during the medieval period. The gifts were in books, manuscripts, gold, and jewels as they were expensive and personalized. The concept of romantic gifts also began during this era where few unusual gifts involved washbasins, garments & hair strands sewed into their significant other’s clothes.
The ancient history of gift-giving was also highly influenced by the Chinese tradition of celebrating New Year’s, the Spring Festival. It is one of the biggest acclaimed festivals in the country, which lasts for more than 20 days. The red color is highly auspicious and prosperous, wrapping all the gifts in red paper or cloth. Furthermore, if any monetary amount is given, they need to be in even numbers except the number 4, associated with death.
Arab Traditions & Culture of Gifting
In Arab culture, gift-giving is extremely important, personal, and common practice, especially during Eid al-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha, birthdays, marriages, newborns among friends, family, colleagues, or even neighbors. The Arabs are well known for their hospitality, generosity, and friendly nature. As for them, it is an act that brings people together. Initially, they began the concept of gift-giving with the Bedouin, a form of exchange, a gift of money or goods such as jewelry, cloth, livestock, or food given by the groom’s family to the bride’s family. This was followed because, after marriage, the bride’s family would lose her labor and the right to her children; hence, offering gifts would act as fair compensation to the family.
Muslims worldwide are also known for their sweet gesture of giving zakat or charity to the poor with the belief that it would return to them one day. For example, during Ramadan, Muslims are expected and encouraged to feed people every night for Iftar. Muslims on Eid ul-Adha donate grains or other staple foods, whereas, on Eid ul-Adha, they are required to slaughter an animal out of which they save some for themselves, their friends, and the rest is given as a donation.
Moreover, Arabs don’t just gift each other on special occasions or exchange gifts during events that might not be common with different cultures, such as visiting someone’s home for the first time or strengthening their relationship with that person. Especially in countries like the UAE, you won't be witnessing a wedding with a small crowd. Their entire extended family or friends would be invited to a big feast where gifts are given.
To conclude, gift-giving has been followed for centuries, and as we progressed into a modern era, the only thing that changed would be the gift itself and not the act. Its purpose always remained the same, to showcase appreciation, happiness and strengthen relationships among family and friends. It doesn’t matter which culture or country you are from, the traditions you follow, or even the occasion because as long as you know that the person on the receiving end would be happy, then that's all that matters.