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History of the Christmas Gift

Today Christmas is celebrated as the birthday of Jesus with lots of traditions added to the day from throughout the centuries and even before Christ. On the first of January, Roman emperors received gifts from their ministers, to celebrate the winter solstice. Some traditions are still welcome and beautiful such as the wreath, candles and Yule log, but some, such as gift giving have changed into a highly commercial venture. The history of Christmas gift giving begins with the three kings or magi, who came to the infant child to offer valuable gifts. January 6th is celebrated by some Eastern Orthodox Churches as the Three Kings Day, the day they arrived in Bethlehem and gifts are exchanged on that day.


The Romans continued giving gifts during December 17th to the 24th in celebration of Saturn and French nuns distributed presents to poor people on Saint Nicholas’ Eve. But, only in the 18th century does the modern history of Christmas gift giving begin. Even though the roots of gift giving at Christmas are in the offerings to Jesus, it has actually changed the celebration of Christmas to a more secular holiday. Santa Clause gives gifts to everyone and by 1840 he was figured in advertisements for objects to be sold as gifts for Christmas.


Today, the history of Christmas gift giving has developed into a frenzy of shopping and spending. Gifts need to be bought for family, children, friends, colleagues, bosses, mailmen, doormen, teachers and many more. The list is huge and shopping takes forever. Stores are open until midnight for weeks before Christmas and every Sunday. Children make wish lists and are usually somewhat disappointed every year. If they see a good price, parents start buying toys in the summer and hide them to save for Christmas presents. Useless things are bought and given and often just thrown out or passed on to someone else. Children feel pressured to give gifts to everyone and sometimes work hard to give that special gift to someone they love.


In the middle of all this consumerism, there is a heart in the right place. Giving is an unselfish act that humbles as well as uplifts. When you give a bottle of cologne or a cheap necktie, you don’t think about the object, you think that you hope the receiver is happy. Wishing for the happiness of others is worth all the trouble of the season. This is the real history of Christmas gift giving; an offering with the wish to please. This is why the tradition endures. Commercialism takes advantage of this wish but cannot diminish it.


The modern history of Christmas gift giving centers on Santa Clause, the ultimate gift giver.  Clause’s modern image was created by a German-American cartoonist, Thomas Nast. In every European culture some form of Santa Clause exists. Children were the main recipients of these gifts; but not now. Everyone gets and gives gifts at Christmas. Even though we are excited about gifts we will receive, this practice gives, at least once a year, the chance to wish for the happiness of others.

This article was published on Monday 16 November, 2009.

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