Christmas Presents: How Did Christmas Gift Giving Traditions Start?

Christmas Presents: How Did Christmas Gift Giving Traditions Start?

By D K Mukherjee

Christmas is the time when companies rake in the moolah by the cartload. That’s because it is not just the season for good cheer but also the time to exchange gifts with loved ones. But just when did this custom originate?

Gift Giving Pre-Dates Christianity By Centuries!

Giving gifts to friends and family did not start with Christmas. It goes back at least 200 years, before the advent of Christianity. The ancient Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn – their god of harvest – had one significant feature. The custom of giving gifts to one another.

The First Gifts Associated With Christ

According to the Bible, the Three Wise Men from the East, or the Magi, came to visit the baby Jesus armed with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were not randomly selected presents and each held a special significance. The gold signified that it was a gift for a king; frankincense was for the priest, while myrrh was a burial ointment.

It was perhaps this first act of giving gifts that set the tradition for the coming generations of believers. God had given mankind His gift in the form of Jesus Christ and the Three Magi, in turn, had honoured the infant Jesus with these prophetic gifts.

Saint Nicholas And His Stocking Stuffers

In the 4th century, there lived a Bishop Nicholas in Myra who was renowned for his generosity and love for children, who would always receive small gifts and presents from him. And his penchant for leavings gifts anonymously in stockings is the stuff of legends.

A poor widower lived with his three unmarried daughters in Myra. The impoverished father despaired of ever finding suitable grooms for his three girls. Bishop Nicholas learnt of the family’s plight and deposited three bags of gold coins through the peasant’s chimney one night.

As luck would have it, the bags fell into the three stockings that the girls had hung by the fireplace to dry. The story spread and started the tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace and ultimately found its way into the evolution of the popular, mythical Santa Claus.

Christmas Presents Become Ingrained In The Yuletide Tradition

By the 10th century, giving gifts to loved ones during Christmas had become an inseparable part of Christmas celebrations all around the world. When industrial revolution swept through the western world, it was all the impetus that was required for astute businessmen to smell vast money-earning potential in the commercialization of Christmas gifts.

Earlier handmade gifts would be exchanged between close family and friends. These would usually be baked goodies or rare fruits like oranges. Industrialization led to a shift from handmade Christmas gifts to manufactured ones. The mass production made people opt for the latter as it was more easy and convenient.

Christmas presents

Commercialization changed handmade Christmas gifts to manufactured ones

Gifts And A Family Christmas Get A Fillip In The Victorian Era

Christmas traditions and celebrations, which had been grounded during the reign of the Puritans, revived during the Victorian era. It was during this time that Christmas really turned into a deeply significant family celebration. There was much cheering and stress on giving of gifts.

Modern Day Gift-Giving Traditions

By the end of the 19th century, Christmas was no longer a simple affair. Advertising blitzkrieg and widespread commercialization had ensured that Christmas became one of the biggest money-spinners of all time.

Gifts could no longer be just simple, homely affairs. They had to be expensive, extravagant and something to be flaunted rather than merely cherished. Yes, the trend set by the Magi had survived the centuries but probably not in the way it was intended!

Former journalist Daya brings her considerable creative writing expertise to the UK gift industry. Her forte is the fine art of gift giving to all the women in one’s life, as well as handling the tricky etiquette involved in romance and relationships on the web. She has also written on holidays and their traditions. Here, Daya has all the biggest Christmas customs explained, with interesting nuggets about all the most loved traditions. Daya also helps you pick the top wife’s Christmas gifts to woo the most important woman in your life at Christmas.
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