A Brief History of Gift Giving
The foundation of modern day gift giving can be traced to the visit of the Three Kings to Bethlehem to visit the newborn Baby Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Today in parts of Europe, Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6th, commemorating the Kings’ traditional day of arrival.
In pagan Rome during the 13th century gifts were exchanged during Saturnalia, a holiday honoring Saturn celebrated the week leading up to the winter solstice. The tradition of gift giving showed up in Northern Europe in the 13th century when French nuns gave gifts to the poor on St. Nicholas Eve honoring the Saint’s generosity to those in need.
Giving gifts became central to the Christmas tradition in the late 18th century when Christmas themed ads began showing up in newspapers in 1820. Santa Clause started showing up 20 years later as the popular bearer of gifts. By 1867 Macy’s department store in New York City was staying open until midnight on Christmas Eve, allowing late shoppers to make last minute purchases.