The first thing many people think of when they think of Christmas is gift giving. What people don’t think of is WHY we give gifts at Christmas time. How long have people been giving and receiving gifts for Christmas? Let’s examine the history of Christmas presents.
The Gifts of the Wise Men
In the biblical story of Christmas, three wise men visit Jesus Christ in the manger, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Many people trace the origins of holiday gift-giving to this story and in some places throughout the world, gifts are actually exchanged on the Epiphany, the feast of the Three Wise Men.
In ancient Rome, the end of the year was commemorated with a festival known as the Saturnalia, honoring the titan Saturn. Gift-giving was an essential part of this festival.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, in parts of what is now England, gifts were exchanged at the New Year. During the Protestant Reformation, this tradition was changed to coincide with Christmas.
The 19th Century
The popularity of Christmas as a holiday really took off in the 19th Century. Clement Clarke Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas) helped to popularize the tradition of giving holiday gifts. It also helped to popularize Santa Claus, a new take on classic holiday gift-giving figures like England’s Father Christmas.
In modern times, gift-giving during the holidays has thrived. Many households have their own, personal traditions regarding the giving of gifts during the holidays. Some homes open a single present on Christmas Eve before opening the rest Christmas morning. Christmas gifts have become an essential part of the economy, driving a huge percentage of retail sales during the year.
Now you know a little more of how Christmas gifts evolved throughout history. Enjoy the season and have a happy New Year.