These days we tell children that we give people gifts at Christmas to be generous. Spreading the idea that the gift-giving is more important and more rewarding than receiving but have you ever sat down and really thought about why we do it?
Let’s explore the origins of giving gifts during the festive season and how it evolved into this big part of the Christmas celebrations now.
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Why do we buy gifts?
The simple answer would be because we like to because we want to share something that made us think of the recipient. But going further into it, it seems to be more of a show of appreciation. Gifting those who have helped us along during the year, for example sending your child to school with a box of chocolate to give to their favourite teacher.
The practice of gift and reciprocity is a long practised human social interaction that can be found all over the world throughout history. The giving and receiving of gifts is a chance to strengthen social bonds.
Why do we exchange gifts at Christmas?
Looking back over all of human history, some would say we exchange gifts because of the three wise men and how they brought the baby Jesus frankincense, gold and myrrh.
Others would say it’s because of Saint Nicholas, whose tale (as far as the children of the world know) is that he would leave oranges for well-behaved children and coal for those who were naughty.
The real man was a bishop in 343 AD who gave his inheritance to the poor when his parents died, bringing the idea of giving gifts in during the festive season to those who lived in his town.
When he died the idea of giving gifts in December stuck. His legacy has become Santa Claus. The act of giving gifts has been around longer than even St. Nick. There is evidence that in pre-Christianity Rome gifts were given in pagan rituals for the winter solstice in December.
As we mentioned in our How To Celebrate Christmas Victorian Style post, there was a long-held tradition in the UK to share gifts on New Year’s Day but with the growing trend of Christmas celebrations during that century the gift-giving was shifted to Christmas Day.
Why do we put presents under the tree?
This is a relatively modern tradition for the holiday. In Europe Christmas trees were not a widespread thing until the previously German tradition was adopted by Queen Victoria 1840 and became increasingly popular in Victorian times.
Since then people have been propping up trees and decorating them in their homes and in some cultures, they have also been placing their gifts under them too.
Although some countries don’t traditionally leave gifts under trees. For example, in France its tradition for children to leave their shoes out to be filled with presents.
When do different countries open presents?
Gift-giving over the festive season tends to fall on 5 different dates depending on different countries traditions. People open their gifts either on 6th December (St. Nicholas Day), 24th December (Christmas Eve), 25th December (Christmas Day), 1st January (New Year’s Day), or 6th January (Epiphany).
In the UK, we are used to gathering around on Christmas Day to open gifts together. But in different countries open presents on different days.
Some countries in Europe, like France and Poland, celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on the 6th of December. This is when they open presents instead of Christmas Day.
Many countries across Europe (such as Germany, Austria, Norway) and South America (such as Argentina and Brazil) and more open presents on Christmas Eve.
Countries which mostly open presents on Christmas Eve are: