What’s the point of holiday gifts?
Whether it’s the dread of a trip to an overcrowded shopping mall, the challenge of picking out the right gifts, the frustration over delivery delays or the hit to the wallet, shopping for holiday gifts can be stressful.
What’s the point of it all? Shouldn’t the holiday season simply be about family, friends and food? And wouldn’t everyone just be better off spending their own money on things they know they want?
Gift exchanges may seem wasteful and impractical. But as social scientific research reveals, the costs and benefits of gift-giving aren’t what they seem.
The Kula ring
During his fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski documented an elaborate tradition practiced by the Massim people. These island communities maintained a complex ceremonial exchange system that revolved around the gifting of shell necklaces and shell armbands. Each gift first passed between individuals and then traveled between islands in a circle that became known as the “Kula ring.”