The gift that keeps giving
The holiday season is filled with many happy things, most of all the exchanging of gifts. Gift giving is an old tradition that can be traced to archaic societies and it is there that the social norm of gift giving spawned.
There are many reasons why we give gifts to others, and with the holidays quickly approaching, I felt it was a perfect time of year to explore why.
The holiday season can reach its most stressful point with the ever-present question of what to buy another person for the holidays hanging over our heads.
So while our holiday stress may seem to be voluntary, it’s possible that gift giving around the holidays is actually an obligation in our society, not out of the goodness of our hearts.
If we didn’t give gifts during the holidays, would people see the holidays the same way?
French scholar and anthropologist Marcel Mauss, whose best-known work is titled “The Gift,” explores the reason why archaic societies began gift exchange, and leads into ideas that touch on the reason why people exchange gifts on a personal level.
Mauss believed that human society required reciprocity for survival. Mauss’ argument was targeted through his study of archaic societies; he argues that gift exchange was first practiced by whole groups rather than on an individual basis. Clans would make exchanges for economic reasons, and reasons that would affect whole groups and not just the individual.
Mauss is basically studying that gift giving and exchange is without any natural occurrence. It’s only a fragment of social structure.
So if we were going to agree with the views of Mauss,we would believe that holiday gift exchange is purely a human-created obligation. But that takes away the positivity from gift giving.
Moses Maimonides, the author of the Mishneh Torah – a book of Jewish law – speaks of alms giving in degrees. Maimonides says that at the highest degree, alms giving should be done in a manner that is for pure good and looks to only better the individual to whom you are giving in an effort to hold that individual in the highest regard and expecting nothing in return.
I think a great example is when you might present your significant other with an engagement ring. I would hope that the symbol that an engagement ring creates for you and your significant other would outweigh the monetary value of the gift.
Think about why you are exchanging or giving gifts this holiday season, and think about why you are receiving gifts this holiday season. I think gift exchange is a positive practice for all as long as it can be practiced with good intentions.