General Question

bmhit1991's avatar

How did gift giving on Christmas start?

Asked by bmhit1991 (246 points ) January 3rd, 2009 from iPhone

People are selfish. People give gifts every year because they always have, but how did it start? I mean, a few families exchanging gifts or even a single church could start a tradition this big…. So how’d it start. I’m not saying I don’t want to give gifts, or that I’m a scrouge, but I can’t fathom how it started. (and don’t tell me Jesus. He got gold frankencense (sp) and myrr (sp). But that didn’t make people choose unanimously to give gifts to each other)

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14 Answers

asmonet's avatar

Click!

Short answer: Christmas’s gift-giving tradition has its roots in the Three Kings’ offerings to the infant Jesus. The magi traveled to Bethlehem to present Christ gifts. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches and European countries still celebrate the traditional date of the Magi’s arrival—January 6 or Three Kings’ Day—with a Christmas-like gift exchange.

Jack79's avatar

You have to remember that there are 3 different saints here.

1. Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas (from where the name Santa Claus derives) was actually the patron saint of seamen, and also of Holland, at the time when it was a great seafaring nation. Every year on Dec 6th in New Amsterdam (later called New York) the Dutch community would have their national celebration and give sweets or dry nuts to the children, a tradition still held today in many parts of Europe. This has nothing to do with Christmas but happened to be close. And of course St.Nicholas was an austere, dark and skinny figure. I believe he was Syrian.

2. St. Basil, who still gives presents to orthodox children on 1/1 was born in what is now Turkey. He was a very wealthy man and was not original a Christian. One day he had a vision, and converted to Christianity, giving all his possessions to the poor. Legend has it that he baked a huge pie and put in golden rings or precious stones. And then the poor people choked on it (j/k). Greeks still make such a pie on 1/1 and call it “Vasilopita”. They put a coin in it, and whoever finds it is supposed to have good luck for the rest of the year.

3. The spirit of Christmas (not a human figure) and Father Winter (a rather malicious old man) got combined into Father Christmas, an imaginary figure who is actually the closest to the modern-day Santa. He brought children presents on Christmas Eve and came in through the chimney, in the form of the wind.

4. And of course Coca-Cola took all of the above and made loads of cash :)
(as you probably know, it was they that first dressed him up in red and white sometime in the 1920s).

asmonet's avatar

But Sinterklass and Zwarte Piet are the scariest fucking things ever.

Jack79's avatar

asmonet, you are probably right about the present-bearing magi, though the reason Xmas and NY are celebrated later in parts of Russia is simply that they use a different calendar, which is a couple of weeks late to everyone else’s (I think 17 days late). So on the 6th they actually celebrate Christmas, since their calendar says 24.

LOL yes I forgot to mention Black Pete…didn’t wanna scare the kiddies :)

asmonet's avatar

I know some people’s calendars are different, but when I was younger I knew a lot of people who did Christmas and Three Kings’ Day. Lucky kids. :)

Jack79's avatar

…or poor parents ;)

90s_kid's avatar

Yeah I think it was from the 3 kings who gave gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

ark_a_dong's avatar

Gift-giving isn’t exclusive to Christians, of course. For example, indigenous peoples on the Western coast of Canada have ceremonies where they compete to each give the most amount of presents.

Humans have a natural inclination towards giving gifts.

90s_kid's avatar

@ ark a dong
Yea I have heard that nonreligious people celebrate Christmas just for presents and santa etc…nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

asmonet's avatar

@kid: Nothing about Christmas had anything to do with Jesus until the Catholic Church stole a pagan holiday.

90s_kid's avatar

I don’t believe that.

asmonet's avatar

You don’t really have a choice on that one.
I guess I can do your googling for you.

90s_kid's avatar

That was sarcasm. Sorry that I forgot the tilde.
(I’ll put it now): ~

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