Society places a big emphasis on Christmas gifts. In today’s economy, with people thigh high in debt and unemployment on the rise, wouldn’t now be a great time to think about an alternative to this gift giving tradition? No doubt both receiving and giving gifts is fun and entertaining, but is it possible to simplify and take off some of the pressure?
There was a time when Christmas involved no gift giving at all, and in some countries that is still the standard. So, where did the custom of exchanging gifts during Christmas actually come from?
It is a misconceived notion that the tradition of Christmas gift giving began at the birth of Christ. It was actually, the custom at the time of Jesus’ birth that if you were meeting with or visiting someone of notoriety that you would come bearing a gift to present to them.
The celebration of exchanging gifts traces back to ancient times. In Rome, people would exchange gifts in mid winter during the festival of Saturnalia.
With the arrival of Christianity, we find that many of the pagan festive rituals were actually meshed into the Christmas celebrations. Churches even adapted the custom of bedecking houses and churches with evergreen plants like mistletoe, holly and ivy, which originated as a pagan ritual.
The gift giving tradition we are most familiar with today dates back to the Victorian age. The history of the Victorian Christmas started in 1837 during the reign of Queen Victoria. This era introduced us to the custom of the Advent wreath, Christmas cards and Christmas carols. The Victorians had a great deal of fun and were quite creative in celebrating the Christmas holiday. They orchestrated elaborate meals, attended Christmas Eve services and exchanged gifts.
Gifts exchanges were much simpler back in 1837. Children’s toys tended to be handmade and often stockings were filled with an apple, an orange or two and a few nuts. Although the gifts were smaller, excitement was in the air and it was a joyous occasion. Sometime around the late nineteenth century, the exchange of non-materialistic gifts or homemade gifts began slowing fading away. Christmas had come face to face with commercialism, and the new message was to buy and to buy lots!
While for the most part giving has been done on a voluntary basis, there is no disputing that Christmas giving has become a very big business. The demand to purchase the best and the biggest gifts have escalated.
Can we live with less and perhaps even have a lot of fun with it? Can we spice it up like the Victorians and make our own cards versus buying them. Could we do with one gift rather then twenty?
I’m in no way insinuating that people give up gift giving altogether, because actually I believe it is an important part of human interaction; it strengthens bonds among friends and families. We find that the giver, more so then the recipient, is the one who reaps the biggest psychological gains from a gift. So rather than to toss out the presents entirely, strive to be a bit more practical and price conscious.
Try downsizing your Christmas spending. Decorate with popcorn, bake, entertain or consider taking a trip. Make memories, start a new tradition and enjoy the holiday. Get creative and get down to the true meaning of Christmas.