It is an age-old tradition of Christmas to exchange thoughtful gifts with your loved ones. The preferences and trends have changed with the advent of time, but the wholesome gesture remains the same.
The effort that goes behind thinking about what to get and preparing the present is an exhilarating experience. The holiday spirit gets kindled when you witness that your Christmas brought a smile to the recipient’s face. This joy makes your effort behind the gift worthwhile.
Getting gifts is a highlight of this festive season that most people look forward to. This article will discuss the origins of giving gifts on Christmas and its importance.
Origins of Christmas Gifts
The ritual of giving gifts is a tradition that is practiced all over the world. Like most religions, the tradition of exchanging gifts during Christmas holds a sentimental and symbolic meaning in Christianity. It symbolizes the tributes given by the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus after he was born.
According to the New Testament, the Three Magi reached the birthplace of Jesus Christ by following a star. They gifted the newborn gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Thus, the act of giving gifts for celebrating the birth of Christ has been marked. In essence, you are getting a Christmas gift to celebrate and honor the birthday of Jesus Christ.
Beginning of Christian Tradition of Christmas Gifts
Before we get into the establishment of this ritual, let’s learn a little bit about Saturnalia, an old pagan celebration that used to be practiced long before Christianity was born.
Saturnalia was a festival that was widely celebrated in the ancient Roman empire. To convey their gratitude for the agricultural god Saturn, ancient Romans had a ritual of giving gifts.
They believed that they got the seasonal bounty and harvests by the blessing of Saturn. Hence, they wanted to please their god and expressed their gratitude by giving presents and offerings to him. The festivities were week-long, from the 17th to the 23rd of December.
The festivities involved a sacrifice, public banquet, private gift-giving, parties, and making merry. During this banquet, free speech was
accepted, and slaves were considered to be equal to their masters. The event embraced unity and the setting aside of differences.
People were unwilling to give up such a popular tradition of generous gift-giving, carefree ambiance, and lavish amusement. This made the transition to Christianity a bit more difficult during the religious conversion in the Empire.
In AD 312, pagan celebrations were beginning to be banned as the conversion from Emperor Constantine to Christianity took place. Due to fear of backlash, the religious leaders at that time were unable to ban Saturnalia.
Hence, for a smooth transition, some of the old pagan customs were rationalized into Christianity. The gift exchanging ritual carried over to the newly established religion. This tradition was then associated with the gifts given to baby Jesus by the magi.
This practice was also embraced by Saint Nikolaos. He was a 4th-century saint who was renowned for his love of giving people gifts. He was more widely known as Saint Nicholas.
The kindness and generosity of Saint Nicholas have been honored since then and are now embodied in the beloved Santa Claus. The name Santa Claus originated from this kind and generous saint.
Diverse Christmas Figures
The ideologies of St. Nicholas were established in the ancient Roman Empire. The Americanized version of this embodiment of generosity is Santa Claus. However, there are other variations of this custom that have been established in different parts of Europe.
All these diverse customs have the common story of an individual giving gifts selflessly. Numerous Christmas children’s books have many wholesome stories from such rich folklore of different versions.
In German culture, Christkind is a figure who was a young girl and is believed to have qualities similar to Christ himself. Children in Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Liechtenstein write letters to Christkind. This tradition is similar to the American children sending letters to Santa Claus.
Despite the matriarchal figure of Christkind, most people believe that the presents were delivered by Father Christmas on Christmas Eve.
In Italy, La Befana is another matriarchal figure with attributes like Santa Claus. She is an old woman who was supposed to accompany the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem but did not go in the end because she was too busy.
She promised to join them on the return journey, but they took a different route. La Befana searched for them for the rest of her life. In other versions of this narrative, she changed her mind and tried to catch up with the caravan. Since she was not able to give baby Jesus, she bestowed gifts to children on her way.
Some tales cast her as an old witch who loved cleaning and riding a broom. On the Twelfth Night, she is said to descend the chimneys bearing gifts for children. She also has a reputation for cleaning the floors before flying away. A very considerate and thoughtful figure to look up to.
Festival of Three Kings
In Barcelona (Spain), the tradition of giving gifts comes from the Feast of the Three Kings. Spanish children write letters to the Three Kings, similar to the Italian and American children writing letters to their regional Christmas figures.
The Three Kings was the name and homage given to the Three Wise Men. The Three Wise Men were the bearers of gifts. Besides giving gifts to the newborn Christ, they also used to leave presents in or near the shoes of small children. There is also a risk of the child getting a lump of coal if they had been naughty.
Why Christmas Gifts are Placed Under the Tree
Gifts of candies, biscuits, pastries, apples, and other small presents were the original Christmas ornaments. It has been an age-old tradition to fill the stockings with gifts. Over time, these edible ornaments were replaced with permanent ones, but the stockings remained.
The types and sizes of gifts changed over time as the tradition grew. To keep this original tradition alive, the gifts too large for the stockings migrated to the area under the tree. The edible treats on the tree made their way to the Christmas stockings.
Christmas in Australia
Australia is the world’s smallest continent, but it is also the largest island in the world. Immigrants from England and Ireland make up the majority of the population of this country. These immigrants also brought their Christmas customs along with them, including giving gifts.
Australia is dubbed as the Land Down Under as their seasons are the exact opposite to the ones in America. Unlike celebrating Christmas during the winter as is done in the Northern Hemisphere, Australia celebrates Christmas during the summer.
They celebrate Christmas on the same date (25th December), but it is summertime. Their most popular Christmas event is Carols by Candlelight. In this event, locals come together at night and light candles.
They sing Christmas carols outside after lighting their candles. The sight of such unity and harmonious concert with the stars shining above is a mesmerizing scene. The families adorn their homes with palm leaves, ferns, evergreens, and colorful summer flowers.
The festive vibe is made more distinct by decorating their homes with Christmas bush and Christmas bellflower, native Australian flowers that only bloom during the summer. Instead of the American pine tree as the Christmas tree, Australians put up a Christmas bush.
This native plant has small green leaves and cream-colored flowers. These flowers become shiny and red over weeks. Poinsettia plants, nasturtiums, wisteria, and honeysuckle bloom are also popular plants used as decorations.
The Christmas merriment begins in late November. Schools and church groups host nativity plays. Throughout December, they sing festive carols. Some families attend church together on Christmas Eve.
Some kids expect gifts from Father Christmas while others anticipate presents from Santa Claus. The Christmas presents are usually wrapped in green, red, or festive wrapping paper. Children hang their stockings at the end of their bed or on the mantelpiece above the fireplace.
These stockings are filled with small treats from either Father Christmas or Santa Claus. These gifts are opened on the morning of Christmas. The family enjoys a breakfast of ham and eggs together after opening the gifts.
A popular Christmas gift is the Christmas hamper. These hampers are filled with delicious Christmas treats like various festive biscuits, chocolates, jams, pickles, roast hams, cheese, wine, infused spirits, etc.
Most of these hampers are given to individuals who are away from their families, such as struggling students. Some of them are also invited to Christmas dinners and barbecues. The overall experience is quite wholesome and heartwarming.
Christmas Is A Time For Giving
Christmas is an amazing holiday that honors generosity, cheerfulness, and overall joyfulness. Celebrate this special holiday with your loved ones by exchanging thoughtful gifts and feasting together.