By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 8 December 2015)
Gifts were exchanged during the ancient pagan midwinter celebration, and the tradition persisted after the holiday was converted to a Christian celebration. However, presents originally played a very small role in the festivities, and they tended to be little things such as baked goods, needlework, wooden toys, dolls, candles, fruit, or caged birds.
The tradition of gift-giving continued after the spread of Christianity, with gifts evoking the symbolism of the presents given to baby Jesus by the three wise men. However, the Puritans did not believe in giving gifts at all, so under their stern, cheerless authority, the tradition dwindled. It was revived in the 1800s, and over the past century, stores saw the potential to increase sales over the Christmas season. To capitalize on the holiday, they produced advertisements suggesting that people purchase manufactured gifts rather than making each other little inexpensive things. This strategy proved wildly successful, and soon nearly all Christmas gifts were mass-produced in factories and purchased from stores rather than handmade by individuals.
In recent years, many people have become disenchanted with the expense, commercialism, and materialism associated with modern Christmas celebrations, and a significant percentage are opting out of gift giving altogether, limiting the number of gifts exchanged or the cost of gifts purchased, or exchanging only handmade gifts. If you’re among those who enjoy giving gifts, but you detest the materialism and commercialism of modern Christmas celebrations, here are a number of suggestions for meaningful, environmentally friendly, and less materialistic presents.
For more Christmas articles and gift ideas, see the main Christmas page.
- A&E Television Networks. (2015). History of Christmas. History.com.
- Connolly, A. (2014). Christmas Traditions: Why Do We Give Gifts at Christmas? CBC News. CBC.ca.
- Cooper, J. (2015). WhyChristmas.com.
- Salisbury, M. (2009). Did the Romans Invent Christmas? History Today, 59(12). HistoryToday.com.