The Meaningful Gesture of Heritage-Inspired Gifts
Some years ago, after learning a large part of my ancestry is Swiss, I spent some time living near the village my ancestors had lived in for hundreds of years. Surrounded by the rich culture of the Alps, I had a shift in the types of objects and travel experiences I want to fill my life with. One of the strongest shifts had to do with gifts.
Up to that point, most of the gifts I gave others were either useful (a blender for a college-age sibling; a pamper-yourself type of gift card for girlfriends), or beautiful (a piece of art for a parent). Occasionally a gift would cross into both categories (festive Christmas pajamas, for example), but it seemed even the best of these were still missing something essential, that special element that would communicate how deeply I cared for that person, for their story, and for our story together.
As my time abroad drew to a close, I considered carefully what souvenirs I might bring home. I found that the iconic buys—the ones you might expect someone to bring home from Switzerland—held little appeal. Instead of a Swiss Army knife, what I really wanted was the bread knife my host mother cut the dinner bread with as we gathered around the table each evening. Instead of a large Swiss flag to hang at home, I wanted a tiny goats’ bell from the valley through which I spent the summer hiking. I realized that without a personal story rooted in a memory, an object holds little value. But with it, an object becomes unforgettable.
In the world of gift-giving, we would all do well to consider this distinct and often overlooked avenue: give gifts rooted in stories of ancestry and heritage. This sort of gift-giving marries 'useful' and 'beautiful,' while holding the essential element of a gift never-to-be-forgotten: a meaningful backstory. This sort of gift-giving isn’t about the latest trends or fancy packaging; instead, it's a deliberate nod to our roots and the stories ingrained in our lineage. When you give gifts inspired by heritage, each gift becomes an act not just of generosity, but of connecting with the essence of who we are and where we come from.
Gifts from Ancestral Cultures
An easy place to start with giving heritage gifts is with the country’s known and cherished icons. Try a tartan throw or woven Welsh blanket for those with heritage from the British Isles. A Norwegian flower girl candleholder dressed in traditional gowns makes a wonderful addition to the homes of those with Scandinavian ancestry. Batik linens or woodcarved kitchenwares are a favorite gift from Southeast Asia. A handmade Japanese or Korean teapot gives a daily reminder of calm and groundedness. For those with African descent, a woven market basket from Ghana, given full of flowers or fruits, will hold meaningful connection. And a cuckoo clock from the forests of Switzerland or Germany chimes a happy note for those longing for ancestral mountains.
Food from the Culture
For a more memorable (and tasty!) gift experience, I love turning to food. For example, I might give a heritage shortbread pan, with a batch of freshly-made shortbread, to a friend with British affinities. With those friends whose heritage (and travel-ken) lean Alpine, a raclette grill, with a round of raclette cheese, is the perfect gift. Our gourmet Swedish Fish and Ginger Snaps make lovely stocking stuffers or neighbor gifts, or could be incorporated in the place settings for a family meal of Swedish Christmas meatballs. A handwoven Mayan bread basket, filled with marraqueta, for those learning about their Hispanic ancestry.
Gifts of kitchenware tend to get a lot of use (a special requirement for a good gift), and I find that with each use, it calls to mind not only the giver, but also the ancestral stories attached to its origin.
Literature with Stories of Homelands
Kindred Lands, a new brand approaching ancestry from the perspective of culture and craft, has recently launched a line of heritage guides to lands of ancestry. The first, on Scotland, is filled with legends, songs, traditions, recipes, and cultural experiences to try at home. For anyone who has Scottish roots, who wishes they had Scottish roots, who is a genealogical fanatic, or has merely mentioned wanting to learn more about ancestry, this is a lovely gift.
Vintage Jewelry, Rich with Story
While dating my now-husband, we learned that his family name is Scottish (not French as he’d previously assumed) and that there was a long line of brave and strong Scots from which he’d descended. Searching Etsy, I found a pair of vintage Scottish cufflinks to give him our first Christmas together. He later wore these cufflinks to our wedding ceremony (and I wore my grandma’s diamond studs). It was as if those beloved people, though gone, were walking down the aisle with us too. We love imagining the things these pieces of jewelry have seen over the centuries.
Jewelry, especially from older eras, often makes some of the most significant gifts. Designs like the Celtic claddagh, the ancient fede gimmel, the Masonic orb, or the Scottish thistle have stories with deep sentimental value, and when attached to the relationship you have with the receiver, it will become a piece they will cherish forever. Browse all our antique jewelry here.
For an experiential gift they’ll never forget (especially if given to the whole family), plan a trip, like those featured here, to the countries and villages of the recipient’s ancestry. Explore the landscape; visit churches, castles, and cemeteries; and walk the old roads their ancestors would have inhabited. Sharing these sorts of experiences with loved ones adds a depth to travel unattainable in any other way.
Historic Art from Ancestral Landscapes
In decorating my home, I always keep an eye open for pieces with special ancestral significance. I love gifting art with that same awareness. You might find a vintage topographical map of the village the person’s ancestors lived in. Enlarged and nicely framed photographs of their predecessors, of family crests, or ancestral homesites make exceptional gifts. Our collection of antique paintings from Europe may also serve as a springboard for finding beautiful art with meaningful stories of lineage behind.
When giving gifts from a person's ancestry, often the most cherished part will be the note you attach to it. Write a brief synopsis of the story, tradition, or history of the gift within the ancestry. Describe how you hope they might use it in their home to remember the rich heritage they have. Shop all our gifts by heritage here, or drop a comment below if you've ever received such a gift. We'd love to hear what you come up with!