Exchanging stuff Б as gifts or economic transactions Б and reciprocating those exchanges in a socially acceptable way – is a practice found in all human cultures. The rules and scope of the exchanges may be very different, but the fact of them is universal. French anthropologist Marcel Mauss doesnБt attempt to explain the politics and practice of the office Secret Santa (alas) Б instead, he describes Бarchaic societiesБ in Melanesia, Polynesia and the north-west coast Native American peoples who practiced БpotlatchБ, a ceremonial gift-giving and feasting ritual characterised by competitive shows of conspicuous giving and consumption. These, Mauss says, are systems of gift-giving that arenБt just about gifts, but carry legal, economic, spiritual and moral significance that saturates the whole social fabric (he calls them Бtotal prestationsБ). In these societies, items given as gifts take on the spiritual significance of the giver. The value of the relationship is embodied in the thing given. If we can understand the rules and role of gift exchange and reciprocity, he tells us, we can understand the whole culture. Fundamentally, Mauss says, giving gifts is neither voluntary nor altruistic. ThereБs an obligation to give, an obligation to receive and an obligation to repay. There are rules that determine how this is done correctly Б with whom, when and how are all prescribed. One of those rules is to make it
look voluntary and spontaneous, so the gift is Бgenerously offeredБ. But actually itБs a Бformal pretence and social deceptionБ. WeБre all complicit, and pretending is part of the rules.
If you donБt give Б and receive Б correctly, you risk losing honour, moral authority and wealth. Mauss thinks things are a little more complicated in complex, developed societies with liberal, utilitarian market economies that follow very different sets of rules, Certainly we live in a society with multiple, overlapping and conflicting systems of value and exchange, as do the people in the Бarchaic societiesБ Mauss (sometimes inaccurately) describes. ThereБs plenty to. But I think in many ways, the basics still stand. MaussБ ideas explain why gifting faux-pas can be some of the most stressful moments in the holiday season, and fundamentally, why we havenБt all just given up and decided to do without the bother. Firstly Б gift-giving is moral and there are social consequences if you get it wrong. ItБs not just the thought that counts, itБs the social action. So by all means be creative, but if he gives a diamond bracelet, and you give a box of After Eights, they bring a cake and you give it back to them when they leave as a means of БreciprocatingБ, you announce that you decided not to БdoБ presents this year, just after everyone has handed you yours, youБll pay for it. Not just today, but forever. Secondly, gift-giving Б especially at Б is Бformal pretence and social deceptionБ. A warm thank you for the sweater youБll never wear is not just polite, itБs a mandatory step in the dance of this social exchange. Gift exchanges arenБt just about individuals, theyБre about the groups we belong to Б and our actions are understood in that context.
Your kids ignore the gift Grandma gave them? ItБll reflect on you, the parents. Visitors from overseas witness the exchange? ItБll reflect on the nation. Naughty or nice? A child dressed as a Christmas elf. Photograph: Craig Holmes/Alamy Thirdly Б for them to really count, shop-bought, mass-produced items must be transformed from impersonal commodity to gift imbued with the spiritual significance of the giver. ThatБs why cheques and vouchers can fall flat. And thatБs why wrapping paper matters Б it actively changes the value of the gift. Ultimately gift-giving is a means of affirming and strengthening the moral bonds between us. ItБs strategic, competitive, and non-voluntary, but still it binds us close and reminds us that weБre not in this game alone. But if theyБre neither voluntary nor disinterested, are they really gifts at all? I reckon if you believe in БpureБ gifts at all, then youБre good at self-deception as well as social deception. Merry Christmas. The tradition of is an old one, but it became associated with more recently. It is a relic of a pagan custom, namely, the which in Europe. This was celebrated in with gift-giving during the holiday, which took place that month. As became increasingly widespread in the Roman lands, the custom of gift-giving continued. Around the year 336 AD the date of December 25 appears to have become established as the day of Jesus\’s birth, and the tradition of gift-giving was reinterpreted and tied to the story of giving gifts to ; together with another story, that of based on the historical figure of, a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver, it slowly became a part of Christmas celebrations.
Some early Christian rulers, however, interpreted this story as indications that it should be their subjects who should give gifts to their superiors, and insisted on tributes and tithes during that period. This changed around the turn of the millennium following the popularity of the story based on the life of another historical person claimed to be a gift-giver,. Christmas gift-giving to superiors became less common, and around the time of the, customs of gift-giving to children became increasingly widespread in Europe. The custom spread to the United States around the 19th century. This also coincided with the desire of some elites to reduce the rowdiness of adult Christmas celebrations, which in some places were tied to begging, as \”bands of young men, often rowdy, would \”wassail\” from home to home and demand handouts from the gentry\”. Another related aspect was the growing desire by parents to keep children at home, away from the \”corrupting\” influence of the urban streets. Another relatively recent change concerned the time of Christmas gift-giving. For many centuries, gift-giving took place on December 6 around or in early January after. The popularity of this custom grew after the positive reception of the 1823 poem and the 1843 novella. By the end of the 19th century, replaced early December or January dates as the most common date for gift-giving in the. It is custom for one to open a single gift on the evening of Christmas Eve. [