Current EventsBook ReviewsFun and GamesCultures

Christmas Gifts

Also on This Site


The practice of giving and receiving gifts on holidays is an ancient one. For a great many years, holiday gifts were small, with the thought much more important than the thing given. Through the years, Christmas has come to be associated with a large amount of gifts.

The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a festival in honor of the god Saturn, in mid-December. The length of Saturnalia varied, but it was definitely more than a one-day celebration. One of the days of Saturnalia was called the Sagillaria; and on that day, the Romans gave one another gifts. In the 4th Century, the Roman Church decreed that Jesus, Christianity's central figure, was born on December 25.

Another Roman festival, the Kalends, celebrated the new year and occurred not long after the completion of Saturnalia. Gift-giving was an element of this festival as well.
Jesus himself, in a familiar story from the Christian Bible, was the recipient of three well-known gifts, from the Magi.

One famous story of giving to the poor was that of King Wenceslas, a Bohemian duke who braved harsh winter weather to give to a poor man suffering in the cold. (The story formed the basis of the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas.") Wenceslas, it was said, made a habit of giving food and clothing to the poor in his kingdom.
Earlier, Bishop Nicholas of Myra (in Turkey) had become known for giving treats and small gifts to poor children. (This is the Nicholas who was later canonised and came to be known as St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus.)

The story of Santa Claus's bringing gifts to children likely began from a story straight out of folklore. Legend has it that Nicholas of Myra heard about a family of three children who were going to be taken away because their one remaining parent couldn't afford to keep them. (Another variant of this story has the family too poor to pay for the daughters' weddings.) Nicholas climbed up on the roof of the family's house and threw three small bags of gold down the chimney. The children had hung their wet stockings near the fire, to dry; and, so the story goes, each bag of gold dropped into each child's stocking and the family got to stay together. A variant on this story has one bag of gold landing into a pair of shoes on the hearth; and as a result, Scandinavian children leave their shoes out on Christmas Eve.

Somewhere along the way, St. Nicholas became Sinter Klaas of Holland and then Santa Claus of England and the United States. The mad rush of gift-buying that is familiar to the Western world today is a product of retail enterprises that expanded rapidly in the past two centuries.


Custom Search

Follow SocStudies4Kids on Twitter

on this site

Social Studies
for Kids
copyright 2002-2014,
David White

Sites for Teachers