With the holiday season coming up on us fast, both Yule, Christmas, Hanukah, and Kwanza are around the corner, we’re all in that mad rush to try and find the gifts we want to give to people. We’re making our lists, checking it twice, and trying to be political about not caring who is naughty or nice.
While gift giving is a nearly universal tradition, our winter holiday gift giving can find its roots in the Scandinavian and Germanic traditions. Gift giving was an important part of Norse-Germanic culture, because to give and receive a gift marked the bonds between two people. The Chief or Jarl of an area was expected to give to the people under his domain, and he in turn would receive gifts to show the care his people felt for him.
CNN has an article about three myths about gift giving. It’s an interesting read, that focuses much on the modern way we give gifts, but it doesn’t really explore why these “myths” are there or why they might have come from. The myths that “stuff is good,” “uniqueness is key,” and “expensive is better” are addressed in the article.
While I will certainly agree that a unique gift isn’t always the key to the best gift, there is nothing wrong with tailoring one’s gift buying to the person in question. If that person is a rather unique individual, this can mean the need for a unique gift. I think the reason we so often push for that unique gift is because we want to be remembered as the gift giver, so that the person doesn’t just see a random item and go “huh?” in a few years.
The idea that stuff is good, though, can be traced all the way back in olden days. While CNN might argue that a rock concert or epic meal is more appreciated, it fails to take into account that stuff is a physical thing. It has value and repeated use. Which is better, to take a man out to dinner, or to give him a complete set of cookware so he can cook his fill for years to come? Stuff is good. It is really nice to have stuff, especially in this day and age where so many are losing a lot of what they worked for. Stuff can replace something they’ve lost, or at least, give them something they can sell for capital down the road if times get even worse. Our ancestors knew this, that’s why they always tended to give stuff as a gift. “I know you are in need of this thing, and here I give it to you so that you have it.”
The last one is that Expensive is Better. While CNN does raise a valid point that expense doesn’t mean satisfaction (largely because if you do it right they will never know how much you paid), expense can however link back up to the above idea that stuff is good. Physical goods for the longest time weren’t just stuff you owned and used, they were repositories of wealth. That gold ring you give your wife isn’t just a sign of love, it is a object of value that she could judge both your wealth by, and sell if she found herself in great hardship. Jewelry isn’t just to look pretty, it was a way to transport one’s wealth in days where there were no banks, credit cards, or cash. These days, as people become more active with the pawn industry as they try to stay somewhere with a roof and food, the value of the gift you give to them might just mean the difference between sitting in a car with taco bell, and sitting in a hotel room with domino’s.
Look, I know we don’t want to think about these kinds of things during the holidays. Christmas and Yule and all the others are time where we try to forget the want and needs of the year and just be happy with our loved ones. Yule was a 12 day long time where no violence was to be committed, and the entire community was to come together in kinship. But remember, at the end of the holiday we all have to go back to the real world. The world where millions are jobless, where there are jobs but no one can get the skills for them because even entry positions are now demanding experience and getting experienced workers for starter pay, where people lose their homes, their jobs, everything. Your gift, your generosity could mean everything to them not just for emotional value, but for physical value as well. the same goes for you, what someone gives you as a gift might just save you from going over the edge.
I’m not saying to throw budged out the window, dear Gods no. But remember, gift giving started because people needed help to survive, and to know that friends and family were there to help them in times of need. That’s the lesson we need to learn here. Especially in these troubled times.