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Why do you think we give presents?

(10 Posts)
3birthdaybunnies Wed 25-Sep-13 06:30:19

I'm not thinking about any specific religion, just wondering why present giving emerged in World religions and what spiritual/ psychological function it serves within a religion.

crescentmoon Wed 25-Sep-13 07:28:42

"“Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another.” [hadith from Sahih Bukhaari]

its a very short hadith/narration but explains giving gifts in islam. its an encouraged action - actually exchange gifts so meant to be reciprocal - in order to increase love and affection between people. in another hadith/narration it is advised:

"“Whoever does you a favour, respond in kind, and if you cannot find the means of doing so, then keep praying for him until you think that you have responded in kind.” [Abu Daawood]

this narration includes gift giving as well as those who do you a favour in actions or words, and the encouragement is to respond to them in kind - do them a favour in return, reciprocate - and if one cant then to keep praying for them 'until you think you have responded in kind'. the general gist of both is for spreading good feelings and amity.

niminypiminy Wed 25-Sep-13 08:46:59

Gift-giving is universal in all known cultures. Anthropologists have studied the customs, rituals and meanings of gift-giving extensively. But giving presents isn't a religious rite, it's a social ritual. Usually it is to do with cementing social relationships.

If you are talking about making offerings as part of a religious ceremony, that is a rather different thing. Again it has been extensively studied, and again the forms of offering, the ways it is done and the meanings attached to it are so various that it's difficult to generalise.

MostlyLovingLurchers Wed 25-Sep-13 10:46:52

I agree the origins are social rather than religious. Reciprocity was a way of strengthening tribal bonds, and of maintaining relationships between tribes (I give you this high value gift and in return please don't slaughter us in our beds. At some point in the future you will give us a high value gift so we don't slaughter you - that kind of thing).

It has become individualised, and there is not always an expectation that a gift is expected back, though you could say there is an expectation of eg love, gratitude, etc in return. Even with birthday presents we usually expect a return present on our birthday. Some gifts may be purely altruistic, and not always an object as such.

A number of faiths have at their centre a sacrifice by the deity (Jesus is the obvious example, but there are many others) which is seen as the ultimate gift. Many religious rituals are also a form of gift giving, only the gift is being presented to a deity. In the past this could have been anything from blood sacrifice to votive offerings in a river etc. I would say that this is still a form of reciprocity - something is expected in return, be that protection, prayers answered, a good harvest, etc.

OldSchoolMamma Wed 25-Sep-13 10:51:11

I give gifts because I love to see the excitement and gratitude on someones face. I like to make people happy and in a way I think it makes me happy too. Some people like expensive gifts but I think the best kind is homemade (Made with love) I'm not religious.

3birthdaybunnies Wed 25-Sep-13 11:06:36

Some really interesting perspectives. I was thinking about giving to each other. I can see the giving of gifts to a diety as a form of reciprocity, it is just interesting how the social rituals of giving to each other have been incorporated into religious practice. Maybe it is orginally in Christianity, and other religions a way of strengthening the bonds within the 'in group' so a shared experience within those from that religion. I guess for me the materialism of modern gift giving seems in contrast to the morals of religions - e.g. Jesus turning tables in temple.

crescentmoon that seems to make sense in terms of reciprocity but does it mean that people are more competitive in terms of giving a better gift to prove their love. Are handmade things made with love seen as better, or does it tend to be monetary value. I'm wondering how it works in the cultural setting - rather than the concept which I think is a good one in some situations. For example having a feeling within a society that life should be reciprocal means that people don't take advantage.

niminypiminy Wed 25-Sep-13 11:35:44

In Christianity the whole point about giving is that although it can be reciprocal it isn't ever conditional. The gifts Gid gives to us - most especially Jesus giving his life - are given by grace, that is freely, without condition, and not because we have done anything special to deserve them. Grace doesn't only work if you are a Christian, for instance. Whatever we can give in return can never 'pay back' ant gifts we get from God, and you can't give things in order to curry favour or to get things in return.

This is very different to the way giving works in some religions, and to the way social gift giving often ( though not always) works.

ErrolTheDragon Wed 25-Sep-13 11:42:08

There are examples of 'gift giving' in other animals. I think its an extension of evolved behaviour.

crescentmoon Wed 25-Sep-13 18:33:41

the test of whether one gives gifts for the sake of a) love and/or paying it forward sense, or b) whether for the sake of currying favour aconditional basis is that:

if two people betray you, and one of them you had given some gift to in the past and the other you hadnt, and you find that you are more upset and angry with the person you had given a gift to than the other one, then that means you are someone who gives expecting some preferential treatment or with a condition that it should benefit you in a worldly way. or at the very least, you expected that no harm should come to you from that person.

and i found that i actually did have that expectation, and to date iv still not managed to clear it from my heart!

as for handmade or store bought they are both narrations from collections compiled in the 9th century, so are just about a general simple recommendation for social interaction and conduct, under what is called the sunnah (prophetic tradition) part of islam, not obligatory. its as you said OP, 'social rituals of giving to each other have been incorporated into religious practice'.

crescentmoon Wed 25-Sep-13 18:39:41

(sorry i forgot to mention it was Imam Al Ghazzali who made that the test for sincere gift giving versus currying favour gift giving!)

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