17.12.07

Holiday gift giving

“There is no disputing that Christmas giving has become a very big business: a strong holiday selling season often means the difference between a good and a bad year for a retailer. In the shopping frenzy that lasts from the opening of the Christmas buying season to the closing hours of Christmas Eve, it’s easy to forget what all the fuss is for.

It was not always like that. There was, not so long ago, a time when Christmas involved no gift giving at all, and in some countries that is still the standard. The union of Christmas and gift giving was a gradual one; actually, the full story of the bright packages beneath the tree begins in the days before the birth of Christ.


In ancient Rome, gifts were exchanged during the New Year’s celebrations. At first these gifts were simple, such as a few twigs from a sacred grove and food. Many gifts were in the form of vegetables in honor of the fertility goddess Strenia. During the Northern European Yule, fertility was celebrated with gifts made of wheat products, such as bread and alcohol.

While most of this giving was done on a voluntary basis, history has had its share of leaders who did their best to ensure they would have plenty of gifts to open. One year Emperor Caligula of Rome declared to all that he would be receiving presents on New Year’s Day; gifts he deemed inadequate of his stature were ridiculed. Then there was Henry III, who closed down the merchants of England one December because he was not impressed with the amount of their monetary gifts.

Like many old customs, gift exchange was difficult to get rid of even as Christianity spread and gained official status. Early church leaders tried to outlaw the custom, but the people cherished it too much to let it go. So the church leaders sought a Christian justification for the practice. The justification was found in the Magi’s act of bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, and in the concept that Christ was a gift from God to the world, bringing in turn the gift of redemption and everlasting life.

Even though the roots of the Christmas present extend to ancient times, the gift giving tradition we are familiar with today owes perhaps the most to Victorian England. The Victorians, who brought a renewed warmth and spirit to Christmas after it had experienced a long period of decline, made the idea of family part of the celebration. Friendliness and charity filled many hearts during their Christmas season, so giving gifts was natural. The ultimate reason for giving a gift was as an expression of kindness, a sentiment that went nicely with the historical tradition of the holiday.”

If you want to read more of this article, check this out.

Talk about gift-giving in our family, well, nothing fancy, nor super expensive. I always taught my children that anything, sincerely bestowed or given should always be appreciated.

Back when I was financially doing very well, my family would look forward to the holiday season and appoint me as the official Santa Claus of the clan. From the food, to the clothes and the gifts, there were enough to share and I didn't mind. And yes, it made me truly happy and fulfilled to see their faces light up when they finally open their presents before midnight. Christmas dinner was kind of hurried but fun and wonderful. Every year, it was that way but I managed to hang on. My only goal was to make my children, including the rest of the family merry during the special ocassion. That was my gift to myself - to be able to share what I have with the people I love.

Cheers!