There are many popular Christmas traditions, and one of them is the exchanging of gifts. The gesture of shopping for, wrapping, and then bestowing a gift on a loved-one in celebration of the festive season, is something that people from many different cultures, all over the world, have participated in for thousands of years. Many families dedicate a lot of time, energy (and money!) to the custom, and, for children, and for some adults too, receiving presents is often the highlight of the holidays. So while you sit down to plan your gift list, (or maybe even write your very own letter to Santa), here are a few fun and festive facts about the gifting tradition to get you in the mood!
As you might know, giving presents to people at Christmas time stems from the gifts given to baby Jesus at his birth. Frankincense, gold and myrrh were offered by the Three Wise Men as a sign of respect and adoration. The idea of a person bringing gifts at Christmas time though, has been around for centuries. Most children believe in a Christmas gift bringer of some sort or another, and it's often St. Nicholas, Santa Claus or Father Christmas. In some parts of Europe, including parts of Germany, Croatia and Switzerland, children believe that the Christkind (German for ‘Christ-child’), a sprite-like child usually depicted with blond hair and angelic wings, will bring them presents. In Spain the three wise men deliver the goods, and in Italy, an old lady called Befana is the magical bringer of gifts.
Depending on where you live in the world, your presents will be left for you in different places. In some parts of Europe, presents are left in shoes or boots put out by children. Traditionally, in Italy, the UK and the USA, gifts are left in stockings, often hanging by a fireplace or under the Christmas tree, where they can be poked, prodded and rattled until the time finally comes to unwrap them. In many countries, including Canada, presents are usually opened on Christmas day morning. The earliest day for opening presents is December 5th, in the Netherlands, on St. Nicholas’ Eve. On St. Nicholas’ Day, (December 6th) children in some other European countries, such as Belgium and Germany, will open their gifts. For many countries across the world though, Christmas Eve is the time to proffer the pressies, and many people, predominantly in Catholic countries, celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th by exchanging their gifts then.
The practice of gift giving is not something that is exclusive to Christianity, however, as several other religions mark the end of the year with similar customs. For example, Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights and Pancha Ganapati, a festival where Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, are celebrated with gift-giving.
Although giving presents is associated with baby Jesus, the practice can actually be traced back to long before the founding of Christianity, with roots in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, where thanks were given to the god Saturn for the agricultural bounty of the year. The festivities took place in December, and were celebrated with sacrifices and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving and much partying!
Despite the diversity in the way that Christmas is observed and celebrated throughout the world, the act of gift-giving is one of the traditions that is almost universally practiced. Although Christmas has been heavily commercialized, it’s important to remember that the real reason people exchange gifts is to show love and appreciation for one another. Giving presents to friends and family is an act of love and kindness; something that will hopefully be continued and celebrated long into the future.
This Christmas, show your love and support for your community by shopping local and buying Canadian-made. Our gift shop is packed full of gorgeous items that are suitable for all the important people in your life, even the dog! We also sell beautiful Christmas cards! Shop online here or come and say ‘hello’ in store!