A Glimpse Into the History of Gift-Giving

mother giving her daughter a gift

Gift-giving is a tradition that most of us have grown up with. But similar to most aspects of culture and tradition, gift-giving has different variations since each of us has a unique take on what it is.

Those who come from more opulent backgrounds, for example, may use this tradition as a means to profess their love in grand gestures. It is like a game of price tags, the higher the better, which is not at all uncommon if we take the time to browse through our social media apps these days.

Oftentimes, we see it in the form of a vacation trip to a foreign country, maybe Dubai, where much surprise awaits the recipient of the gift. Like a candlelit dinner in the tallest building in the world, accompanied by serenade and flower and balloon delivery.

People who cannot quite do the same will say that it is not always about showing money and influence. And it is not. For most people, the concept remains the same, but in much smaller scales. Maybe some DIY wire jewelry or homemade food to celebrate the holidays.

Regardless of the method of which we go about doing it, gift-giving is a vital component of our holidays.

With how important gift-giving is to us, it is about time we educate ourselves on the finer details on the origins of this tradition that we are all so fond of.

Religious Context

Beautiful small round red festive Christmas gift box cradled in the cupped hands of a woman

The act of giving gifts is rooted in a religious context, as some of us may have already known. But contrary to popular belief, it did not begin with Christianity.

Before the Three Kings and the birth of Jesus Christ, Romans have already celebrated Saturnalia, a winter solstice holiday honoring the god Saturn. It was celebrated every 17th of December in the Julian Calendar.

There was no work during Saturnalia. Even slaves were given a moment of respite and an opportunity to join in on the festivities. The rest of the population celebrated by decorating their houses with wreaths and wearing colorful clothing called synthesis before proceeding to sing, play music, and exchange gifts.

Later on, as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, Saturnalia was replaced by other customs. However, the population continued celebrating during December, or wintertime.

An Act of Kindness

Following the Romans and Christianity were the Germans in the early 4th century with the appearance of St. Nicholas, which inspired the being that we know as Santa Claus.

The reason Saint Nicholas is known to inspire Santa Claus is because of his generosity. He was known to bless children with gifts, especially those who came from impoverished backgrounds. This simple act of kindness is what influenced the image of Santa Claus, who is told to be circulating gifts to children come Christmas time.

In modern times, our practice of gift-giving, while still rooted in the context of celebration, is heavily affected by capitalism and consumerism. Many religious groups find this preposterous, but it is important to note that the act of gifting presents is in itself something to be celebrated since we are all willingly sharing our wealth with others.

Scroll to Top