The Origin of Christmas Gift Giving Tradition and Why We Still Do It

Published: 14th October 2010
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If you ask someone what their favorite time of the year is, probably they'll say it's Christmas. While it is highly stressful amidst all the Christmas shopping, it is also a time for families to get together and spend time enjoying one another. While for some it is a blissful event in commemoration of Jesus' birth which often overlooked due to the surge of commercialism. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that people wonder about the roots of Christmas, most especially the tradition of gift giving.

Christmas celebration is rooted in the ancient winter festivals. During this time, Christianity was gaining popularity and Church leaders were trying to eliminate the tradition, as well as get people to convert. However, they soon realized that they would get more people if the latter do not lose their adored winter festivals.

During the Middle Ages, people celebrate Christmas by drinking, feasting and caroling. However, Puritans found these activities as offensive as they were seemingly using the name of Christ. Thus, a self-styled Lord Protector by the name of Oliver Cromwell cancelled Christmas in 1645 because of these reasons. Alternatively, presents were traditionally swapped on New Year's Day.

Essentially, the first thing that comes to a child's mind when we talk of Christmas is no other than Santa Claus (also known as Pere Noel, Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas and Father Christmas). The picture that we imagine him to be was created by a cartoonist in 1863 - Thomas Nast. This was later standardized by advertising in 1920s. Santa Claus' legend possibly sprang from the stories of Saint Nicholas (although drunkenness and merriment was popularly thought of him in Britain from the 15th century). He is now regarded as a big fat man in red suit who sneaks in to the tight chimneys at Christmas Eve, bringing with him presents for nice kids who are on his lists. However, in South America, he is believed to make the toys and baby Jesus delivers them.

The main question here is the one regarding Christmas, furthermore the answer is not that complicated at all. Christmas gift giving takes its roots to the time when the wise men brought gifts to the infant on the manger. In actual fact, some Orthodox Churches and European countries still observe the conventional date when the Magi arrived (January 6th), and do exchange gifts. In addition, the Romans exchanged Christmas gifts as part of their Saturnalia festival. While in the 13th century, French nuns gave presents to the less fortunate on St. Nicholas' Eve.

The gift giving we know of today on the other hand, did not really conceptualize as it is until the late 18th century. In other words, the tradition was meant to remind the people of the magi's presents to the baby Jesus, and that of God's gift to mankind - His Son Jesus Christ. As we know it today, the societal side of gift exchange has ruled over as a way of showing warmth to friends and family alike. However, it should always be kept in the mind and heart that Christmas gift exchange is a religious Christian tradition.

As we shift our focus on the commercial aspect of this holiday season, one cannot really deny that Christmas has turned into a highly profitable niche, as the tradition of exchanging presents continues to live on. Shops advertise up to the wee hours just to avoid disappointment on last minute shoppers. As internet gained popularity, so does online shopping which leads to further simplification on the shopping side of gift exchange practice. Along with this is the wide array of choices in online shopping without the hassle of crowd and long lines. Moreover, personalized gifts are widely available on the internet and more creative presents such as flying experience and spa weekends are more easily booked online.

With all these changes, it is safe to pronounce that the tradition of gift giving has come a long way from Epiphany to what it has become today.

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