Why do we give each other gifts?
Let’s start from the very beginning – and we mean way back in history, literally. In fact, according to Professor of Religious Studies at Aarhus University, Anders Klostergaard Petersen, we’re going all the way back 3.5 million years ago, when our ancestors first began exchanging gifts, e.g. in connection with atonement, acknowledgement of guilt, desire for forgiveness, or sacrifice.
In his view, the gift has always been a completely central part of human communities and has a clear function. The gift is a fundamental phenomenon that can establish, maintain and preserve connections to – and between – people.
In more recent times, gift giving has largely been interpreted as a kind gesture performed to please others. In other words, the good old relationship between a gift-giver who says “here you go”, and a gift-receiver who replies with a “thank you”.
But behind the “here you go/thank you” relationship lie a number of possible motives that justify the act of gift-giving itself. Let’s look at these a little more closely.