The history of Christmas presents
Giving gifts to friends and family at Christmas is a tradition that has taken place for years and years and sparks joy in children all around the world. But how did it start?
The origins of giving gifts at Christmas is a practice for Christians to remember the tributes made to baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men. Upon their arrival after his birth, they gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
However, according to giftsinternational.net, the tradition of gift-giving started long before Christianity began. The ancient Romans celebrated the festival of Saturnalia. Thanks were given to the bounty provided by the agricultural god Saturn between the 17th and the 23rd of December. Gift-giving was a part of the celebrations and took place on the 19th of December, with the day known as Sigillaria.
According to english-heritage.org.uk, when Christianity became more widely acknowledged in the Roman times, giving gifts on New Year’s Day was practiced as a counterpoint to the extremes of Saturnalia.
The tradition of gift-giving moving to Christmas time can be linked to the Protestant reformation in Northern Europe, but also to Dutch immigrants in North America. The immigrants shared the stories of St Nicholas, who they knew by the name of Sinterklaas. This led to him becoming known by the more widely used name, Santa Claus. From there, his delivery of presents moved from St Nicholas’s Day to Christmas eve.
Christmas Day was more traditionally known as a time for adults rather than children. Father Christmas was present, but rather than giving gifts to children, he was a character that acted as a master of ceremonies to provide joy.
The dates of gift-giving gradually changed during the 19th century. By the 1870s, the dates changed from early December and New Year to Christmas. By this point, Father Christmas was known nationwide in England to visit houses with a sack of presents.
Today, different countries open their presents on different days. In parts of Eastern Europe, presents are opened on St Nicholas’s Day on the 6th of December. Catholic countries including Mexico, Italy, and Spain open presents on the 6th of January.