What’s the point? Why should the holiday season not be about family, friends and food? It would be better for everyone to invest their money in the things they love.
Gift exchanges may seem inconvenient and wasteful. Social scientific research has shown that gift-giving can have many benefits and costs.
The Kula ring
An anthropologist, Bronislaw documented a complex tradition used by the Massim people during his fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. These island communities had a complex ceremonial exchange system that included the gifting of shell armbands and shell necklaces. Each gift that traveled from one island to the next was called a “Kula Ring”.
These artifacts had no practical or commercial use. They could not be sold. They were always in motion, so their owners rarely wore them. They made long journeys to exchange their objects and risked their lives while navigating the treacherous waters of the Pacific Ocean in their wobbly canoes.
This is not a good use of resources or time. According to anthropologists, the Kula was a key component in human connection cultivation.
These gifts were not gratuitous. These gifts were not free. They formed a circle of mutual responsibility that led to reciprocal relationships in the community.
The taking effect
Similar exchanges are common in many other countries around the world. In many Asian countries, gift-giving is integral to corporate culture. These symbolic gifts, like the Massim’s, are a great way to build business relationships.
The exchange of holiday gifts is one of the most popular West traditions. On occasions such as Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, many families spend a lot on gifts.
It is absurd to think of it as wasteful if you look at it with cold logic. Everyone has to pay for the goods of others. Many gifts are left behind or returned. It would be better for everyone to use their time and money to suit their needs.
This conclusion is supported by psychological research.
Studies after studies have shown that giving money to others is more rewarding than spending it on ourselves. According to neuroscientists, donating is more rewarding than receiving a gift. The joy of receiving a gift lasts more than the temporary pleasure of giving it.
Gift exchanges can double the joy and show gratitude. Friends and families can get to know each other and their preferences and needs, so everyone gets what they want. This can bring people closer together.
Connectedness creates a web of connections.
Ritualized sharing can be between and within families. Baby showers, weddings, and birthday parties are all examples. Guests should bring a gift of high quality, often expensive. The hosts and guests keep track of the gift’s value and should encourage the receivers to bring a matching gift, if possible.
The exchange serves many purposes. It offers material support to hosts in difficult transitional periods, such as when they start families. It’s like guests investing in a savings account when they become hosts. Gifts can also raise both the giver’s and receiver’s symbolic status. They can host lavish events partially or completely funded by this. These exchanges help to strengthen the ritual bonds between families.
Leaders and diplomats often exchange gifts while visiting foreign countries. French officials give wine bottles to their counterparts in Italy, while Italian leaders tend to gift trendy ties.
Other diplomatic gifts may be rarer. Chairman Mao Zedong sent two giant pandas, named Ling-Ling and Hsinging-Hsing, to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. during President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to China. The United States government sent two horses to China in response.
Sharing is a fundamental part of many ritual traditions. These include the exchange of shells among Pacific Islanders and placing toys and sweaters under Christmas trees. This is fundamentally different from other material trade forms, such as trade or barter.
Muslims do not exchange shell necklaces in return for shell armbands. They do not exchange yams or fish. A birthday gift is different from giving a cashier money to purchase groceries.
This is a general rule for ceremonial actions: they sometimes don’t appear as they should. Ritual actions can make others behave, but they aren’t useful. This is what makes ritual actions so unique.