“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”—Winston Churchill

            Now that the gifting season has passed, the time has come to quickly eat the chocolates your loved one gave you and quietly exchange those new Christmas pants for a larger size or restart the diet you swore to stick to a year ago. What happened there? Is that fruitcake from grandma a re-gift from last year? When and how did all this giving get started anyway?

            It is thought gift giving can be traced to the animal kingdom; male chimpanzee ancestors of humans enticed females with bits of food in exchange for mating favors. Moving up the evolutionary scale, early caveman and cavewoman gave each other little presents—a mammoth tusk, a tiger skin wrap, a new Gucci purse (if you could catch a Gucci)—to prove their ability to provide for the family. Tribal leaders rewarded their followers with gifts for their contributions to the clan.

            Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations started the custom of celebrating birthdays with presents. At the other end of the life spectrum, they also buried wealthy people with elaborate gifts, such as clothing, bowls of food and special sweets.

The tradition of Christmas gifting can be traced back to the story of the three wise men carrying gold, frankincense and myrrh to new born baby Jesus. In the 13th century, French nuns made gifts and gave them to the needy on the eve of St. Nicholas, but Christmas gift giving really took off in the 18th century.

The Final Word… During the Victorian age, giving a gift expressed kindness, love, ingenuity and merriment. Folks spent time shopping for just the right thing that suited their friend, loved one or family member. Today, as during caveman times, men give generously to attract mates and/or keep mates (if they know what’s good for them). Women, on the other hand, are motivated by forming and maintaining social bonds.

            Sadly in these modern times, the holiday seems to be more about getting than giving. On one hand, gifting has gotten oh so complicated. Instead of a baby doll or football, youngsters want the latest video game or an expensive piece of electronic equipment.  

            Even that is better than the “just give us gift cards or cash” wish the grown kids desire. Where is the thought, sentiment, ingenuity and joy in that? I try to keep in mind that it is not the gift, but the thought that counts, Or as comedian Joan Rivers said, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is God’s gift, that’s why we call it the present.”