Student Newspaper at Michigan Tech University since 1921

Published Weekly on Tuesdays Office Located in Walker 105

Where does the tradition of gift giving come from anyway?

With Yuletide just around the corner, it is worthwhile to pause and look into the history of this monumental holiday, one of the few celebrated almost all over the world. Everywhere has different traditions, but it is most commonly known as a holiday for giving gifts. Christmas has not always been linked to Christ or his birthday, though.

The winter solstice was originally a Pagan holiday that was celebrated on the day of the shortest daylight and longest night. The pagan holiday was called Yule in Scandinavia, lasted twelve days and created the custom of burning a yule log to celebrate the rebirth of the sun since after the winter solstice the days gradually get longer again. In Rome, the festival was called the Feast of Saturnalia and was far less wholesome than we know Christmas to be now. This ancient Roman celebration is what eventually gave us the tradition of gift-giving, though.

Once Christianity began taking hold in Rome, they reimagined the gift-giving tradition so that it would align with Jesus’ birthday which took place on December 25. The gifts became symbolic of the gifts that the three wise men brought to Jesus. In some countries like Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, traditional celebrations include things like leaving a shoe out for Saint Nick to fill with candy or small toys.

Originally they would leave food for Odin’s flying horse to eat and Odin would reward them for their sharing with gifts or candy in their shoes. Eventually, this became a tradition associated with Saint Nicholas due to Christianization.

This story is similar to the origin of the Christmas stocking which originates from the life of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas went to the house of poor people and gave them gold and treats. We have adapted that today to small toys and treats. It was not until the early 1800s that stockings were used on Christmas Eve, however. They used to be used on Saint Nicholas Day which is on December 6.

Christmas Eve and Christmas became popular dates for stockings and gift giving after the poem “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823 and the novella “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 gained popularity and fame. When the traditions were shifting from Pagan to Christian, parents also wanted to keep children off the streets, much like how parents are eager to keep kids off the roads on New Year’s Eve, and morphed the holiday into a time for family togetherness and giving gifts specifically to children.

Gift giving is only one holiday tradition that was passed down from ancient times, however. Yuletide also comes with the tradition of burning a yule log. Originally this was actually an entire tree and was a very delicate and sacred procedure. Families would burn the entire tree throughout the twelve days of Christmas which began on December 20 and ended December 31.

Though the spread of Christianity attempted to change these dates to beginning on December 25 and ending January 6 so as to align with the Christian Epiphany, it didn’t quite work out that way. New Year’s Eve still partakes in that glorious revelry of old with alcohol, parties and good friends.

While the traditions may have come from ancient roots, they are celebrated in different ways globally and it is incredible as always to see those gifts under the sparkling Christmas tree. We wish you safe travels and a merry time with friends, family and loved ones.

One Response

  1. Christs teachings being used would have made Christmas’s as we see it to not be nessissary. People would give to each other, even as Christ gave to us.

Leave a Reply