The Gifts We Give
Gift giving is a tradition dating back to prehistoric times. Paleoanthropologist Ariane Burke suggests that our distant ancestors were exchanging symbolic objects as many as 35,000 years ago.
Ancient Egyptians gave gifts to their gods and to the deceased to help in their passage to the afterlife, while Ancient Greeks brought about the celebratory use of candles and round cakes to offer blessings and ward off evil spirits.
The dawn of the Middle Ages transformed our gift giving to include more romantic notions such as flowers, while Christians considered gift giving as a symbolic gesture recognizing the gifts of the Magi to Christ. And yet, gifts of food were ever present throughout the ages to express the notion of caring, wealth and status.
Fast forward to 2022 and we see that, as we enter into the season primed for gift giving, our struggle to find that perfect gift is one that has plagued us since those prehistoric cave dwellers first attempted to create the ideal amulet or seize that awe-inspiring aesthetic symbol of power.
While we now know that we could blame our ancestors for the dash to the stores this holiday season as an unwritten obligation to continue the tradition, we should likely be focusing on our own personal reason for giving. Perhaps it is for the rush of endorphins that create that feel-good sensation, or maybe to enhance our own social and familial bonds.
Research shows that well-intentioned giving is good for our health, just as feelings of being appreciated are good for the health of the recipient.
But we are still left with the enormous weighty question of “what gift do we select?”
In his 1985 column, “Only the Best: A Celebration of Gift Giving in America,” Stuart Jacobson so eloquently writes “At its finest, the true gift is incandescent. It is the token or treasure that lights up the other person, that clarifies a friendship, that remains a luminous memory long after the gift itself may have dematerialized.”
Well, doesn’t that just add a bit more pressure to our already difficult decision making! A look at the scientific research on gift giving may help unlock some ideas for us.
According to a study from the University of California examining the motivations behind gift giving, most study participants preferred gifts that the receiver wants but wouldn’t have bought for themselves. Participants least favored gifts that were too symbolic of the giver and had little to do with the receiver.
This suggests that the most appropriate strategy in the process of gift giving may be to first listen and observe the identified recipient to better understand their interests and needs. Once that has been accomplished, focus on ideas that are personal that could only have come from you. Finally, allow yourself to be creatively inspired.
Here are a few unique gift ideas to help take some of the burden of decision making off of your plate this gift-giving season:
- A food box subscription: Shows you value their health and time. Make it yourself with fresh local produce or sign up for a healthy home delivery option
- Personal services: House cleaning, yard work, babysitting, handyman. It shows you understand their needs
- A night/day out: Dinner and movie tickets, book an escape room, set up tee times.
- Five senses gift: A gift set related to sound, touch, taste, smell and sight.
- Symbolic gift: a cherished memory that was shared between the giver and recipient.
- Items that ease stress/pressure: Massage, yoga, spa treatment.
- Perfect day: Schedule to do any of the other ideas together. For many people the gift of time is you giving your most valuable possession. Bonus – it is that gift with the ability to create that “luminous memory” previously mentioned.
Gifts to avoid:
- Cash: While people do like money, it is very impersonal and implies very little thought or energy was given.
- Underwear: Best not to get too personal unless you know the person very well and you know they really need underwear… then only maybe!
- Souvenirs: No one really wants a relic from a fun time that you had.
- Candles: Too basic and impersonal unless its accompanied by a warm bubble bath, soothing music, perhaps a sprinkling of rose petals and uninterrupted time where the recipient can de-stress.
- Household basics: A vacuum is not a gift!
Now that we know how this gift-giving business all started and have discovered our personal motivations for giving, as well as taken a look at some great gifting options, let us be sure to take time to be present in the moments of this season and enjoy those around you. Feed your mind, body and soul with healthy thoughts and healthy foods and embrace the gifts around you!
Visit us at The Villages Grown Sawgrass Market for more holiday gift giving ideas. Shop for our fresh local produce at your neighborhood Publix and Winn Dixies throughout The Villages.