History of Christmas Gift Giving

Christmas Presents and the History of Gift Giving
By Mary Jo Braun
From the November / December issue of The Quarter Roll

The popularity of exchanging Christmas presents is a hallmark of today's society. However, giving gifts to each other is not a modern practice. It can be traced all the way back to ancient Rome and the winter solstice feast, which honored the Roman emperor, as well as the sun god.

The ancient Romans gave presents to their emperor because it was believed that he was directly related to the sun god. The winter solstice was viewed as a celebration of the sun god's son and his birth. High ranking officials in Rome were expected to shower the emperor with gifts in recognition of this important occasion.

The Catholic Saint Nicholas also plays a role in the modern tradition of exchanging gifts during the holiday season. Saint Nicholas is often remembered for his charity and generosity toward children and the poor. His feast day is celebrated on December 6, which coincides with Christmas and Advent celebrations. Many acknowledge this saint for contributing to modern society's yearly gift giving.

The American tradition of exchanging gifts did not become commercialized until the early nineteenth century. In the early 1800s, shops began selling items intended specifically for Christmas. In 1867, Macy's department store began its practice of staying open late for holiday shoppers. This practice soon became a standard among the retail industry.

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