CHRISTMAS. That is the name of a much anticipated December holiday. Using word association, what comes to mind when you hear the word Christmas? Baby? Christ? Christ-mass? Angel? Mary and Joseph? Church? Celebration? Party? Presents?
The list can expand according to your experiences. Perhaps for children, presents may top the list. Historically, how did “presents” attain a place of importance with Christmas?
In ancient times, before Christianity existed, gift giving was part of pagan festivals. Occasions for festivals varied, but gift giving was a vital part of such events. When Christianity was ushered in at Jesus’ birth, historical records note that the wise men took presents to Jesus. This followed the custom of the time to acknowledge a significant event.
Later, gift giving in an anonymous fashion emerged. Local legends have typically defined the name of the secret gift giver. An early known legend originating from Asia Minor, now known as Turkey, is the story of St. Nicholas. In brief, a father had three daughters. A custom of the culture expected the father to provide dowries for his daughters before they married. This particular father was poor and could not provide dowries for his daughters. St. Nicholas, a bishop living in the area, decided to secretly help the situation. He dropped a bag of gold coins for each daughter down the chimney of the father’s house. The gold coins landed in the stockings hung by the chimney to dry. Thus, the girls had dowries and now could marry.
After the Protestant Reformation, other secret gift givers emerged in northern Europe. In the United Kingdom, particularly in England, the gift giver became known as “Father Christmas”. In France, the giver was known as “Pere Noel”. In parts of Austria and Germany, the legendary gift giver was called “Christkind”. This one was portrayed as a golden-haired baby with wings. It symbolized the new born baby Jesus.
In the early days of the United States, the secret gift giver was called “Kris Kringle”, derived from Christkind. Later, Dutch settlers in the United States used the name “Sinterklaas.” Today, “Santa Claus” is the cherished secret gift giver in the US.
As we follow the path of history from ancient times with pagan festivals, to religious rituals, to cultural traditions, through to today’s major commercialization as a holiday, gift giving is a core event. Many people in the United States view the December holiday as a religious celebration and a time of commercial gift giving. How much money will you spend this year in purchasing gifts for others? How many times have you heard, “Is you shopping done?” Children may voice “ I want Santa to bring ….” Gift giving seems to be the mind set of the season. As we reflect on our gift giving, we may discover some ways to give gifts that do not require substantial amounts of money but rather accent the giving of ourselves. In keeping with this thought, what are some possibilities? Here are a few ideas for starters.
- Clear a neighbor’s sidewalk/driveway after a snow storm.
- Watch small children so parents can have an evening out by themselves.
- Care for pets for neighbors/friends while they are on vacation.
- Prepare a meal for someone having a special need.
- Provide a taxi trip for someone experiencing transportation problems.
- Visit a person who is experiencing a difficult time in their life.
- Send a card or write a letter of encouragement or thank you to someone.
- Volunteer to work in a food pantry during the holiday season.
The list can go on using your creativity. Gift giving spans centuries. Gift giving done secretly, like Santa Claus, or done overtly, conveys good will and appreciation. May you find joy and satisfaction this season by sharing your gifts with others.
To all readers, may you be blessed this holiday season.