The history and significance of Christmas gift giving

Christmas is upon us once more! And as always even during this hard period it is the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate emotions, love and give presents.

The gesture of giving and receiving gifts is deeply embedded in many different cultures and it has started since Roman times. The Roman pagan god of agriculture, Saturn, was celebrated during the winter solstice. Saturnalia was celebrated on December 17 and included the exchanging of gifts.

As Christian Faith started to spread this tradition of celebration and gift giving was one of the many customs adopted as a way to merge these cultures into the Christian religion.

The story of gift giving in Catholic Christian religion has its roots into the story of Saint Nicholas, a wealthy Christian who after his parents passing became a priest and gave all his wealth to the poor. One of the most famous exploits of Saint Nicholas is that of secretly providing a poor family with the dowries for each one of the three daughters, going to their house at night and leaving purses of coins. Saint Nicholas is the figure that then inspired the famous Santa Claus who every year comes secretly at night, down the chimney and brings gifts to all children around the world.

The dowry for the three virgins (Gentile da Fabriano, c. 1425, Pinacoteca Vaticana, Rome)

However, one of the main reasons we have the custom of giving and receiving presents at Christmas, is to remind us of the presents given to Jesus by the 3 Wise Men: Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh. So, every year close to the supposed date of Jesus’s birth people offered gifts to reminisce this particular event.

Adoración de los Reyes Magos by El Greco, 1568 (Museo Soumaya, Mexico City)

During the 19th century there was a major change to the tradition of gift-giving. For many centuries, gift-giving took place on December 6 around Saint Nicholas Day or in early January after New Year's Eve. The popularity of giving gifts on Christmas day started after the release of the 1823 poem The Night Before Christmas and the 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. By the end of the 19th century, Christmas Eve replaced early December or January dates as the most common date for gift-giving in the Western culture.

A Christmas Carol - First edition frontispiece and title page (1843)

Today the gesture of giving and receiving gifts during Christmas is not anymore, a simple cultural or religious tradition. Of course, gift-giving has a direct link to the international market and economy, but it is also a whole ritual that has a grand positive effect in people’s psychology. Most people start planning the gifts they will offer to their loved ones at least a month before the celebration trying always to find what will make them happy. Then it is the whole process of wrapping gifts and living them underneath the Christmas tree. Seeing them rises the anticipation of everyone, automatically putting them into the Christmas spirit.

But the most significant sense of a gift is this:
“I thought of you, you are important to me…” and this is the true meaning of offering gifts during Christmas. Just as the year comes to an end and a whole new is starting with all its new adventures and challenges.

This Christmas will be a bit different for everyone and now it is more important than ever to show your loved ones how much you think of them and appreciate them. Now is the time to spend the holidays with your loved ones appreciating the fact that you have them to lean on when things get tough.

And if you want to remind them how important they are to you what a better gift than a piece of jewelry that they can constantly wear and think of your love.
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