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Christmas Gifts Dates back to Jesus

Like it or not, the Christmas season means giving gifts. If you have children you have probably been stocking gifts for the Christmas season the whole year. Even otherwise we either love to give gifts to friends and family or we do it because we feel obligated and want to avoid any bad feelings that could arise if we don’t give gifts. The history of Christmas gifts goes back to the birth of Jesus and the three wise men that brought gifts to the infant Jesus.


Gifts were given in later centuries by the Romans during Saturnalia, celebrated during the winter, and by nuns to the poor in the 13th century on St. Nicholas’ eve, but the gift giving tradition that goes with Christmas we have today didn’t start until the late 18th century. At that time, during the Victorian era, families used to give gifts to each other at Christmas.  Even though the history of Christmas gifts is based in the three kings who brought gifts to Jesus, the fact of gift giving has made Christmas a more secular holiday. By 1820 stores used Christmas to advertise and 20 years later Santa Clause became part of this as a popular bearer of gifts. By 1867, Macy’s department store was the first to keep late hours for Christmas shoppers.


Today children are thrilled at the possibilities Christmas brings them. Parents are worried if they don’t get the exact item requested and stores start this fever in October to prolong the feeling that it is necessary to buy lots of Christmas presents. Retailers consider the sales at Christmas enough to make up for any slow months during the rest of the year. The history of Christmas gifts has become present day frenzy. Some retailers have realized this is actually putting off shoppers and have cut back on their early Christmas decorations and greetings.


Gifts also come in small places like shoes and stockings. Traditionally these items were placed by the fireplace or window and were filled with goodies overnight. In the history of Christmas gifts this started, according to legend, because St. Nicholas gave three sisters bags of gold coins for their dowries. The bags went down the chimney into some shoes left on the hearth or in a window and into some stockings left by the fire to dry. Giving small presents was also an ancient tradition in Rome and northern Europe during the winter season.


Gift giving at Christmas is also mixed with local cultural customs. In Holland Christmas is purely religious. The gifts are given on St. Nicholas day. In Germany and Poland the children are lucky as there are two days for giving gifts, one December fifth and the other Christmas Eve. Hungary also gives on two days only the gifts are from Jesus not Santa. In Spain the gifts are given on January sixth, the day, according to the history of Christmas gifts, the three kings reached Bethlehem. In Russia the gift giving day is New Years Eve.

This article was published on Thursday 19 November, 2009.

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