One cannot talk about the history of Christmas Gifts without mentioning Santa Claus. Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, who lived in the 4th century A.D. in what is known today as Turkey, was a very wealthy and generous man, who especially loved children. He was known to throw gifts into the houses of poor children in order to brighten their spirits. He was later titled Saint Nicholas, and became the patron saint of children and seafarers. From his story evolved the legend of Santa Claus - the jolly man who brings gifts to children all over the world on Christmas Eve. In England he came to be known as Father Christmas, in China he is known as Dun Che Lao Ren, which means "Christmas Old Man". Many believe that the giving of gifts originates from the deeds of Bishop Nicholas, and not the Roman tradition of giving gifts during the festival of Saturnalia. More likely, the tradition evolved from both practices. This tradition and story spread through Europe and the USA and has evolved into the story of Christmas that everyone knows and loves.
While the first Christmas gifts were given back in 280AD it was not until the 13th century that gift giving began to take on such importance. At this time the gifts that were given were quite small yet they still had a lot of significance to the people who were giving and receiving them.
This gift giving tradition continued to gain popularity through the centuries. But in England in the year 1647, the puritan rulers of the country banned Christmas. This plunged the country into turmoil. Understandably, many people who had traditionally celebrated Christmas and given gifts to loved ones were against the ban. Thankfully this ban was lifted by King Charles II in 1660 and gifts were once given again.
Gifts Become Popular in England and America
It was not until the 1860s that the act of giving gifts at Christmas became incredibly popular in America and England. Families would spend time and effort in making or choosing the perfect Christmas gift for the people that they loved. Many of these gifts were placed under the Christmas tree in anticipation of Christmas morning where adults and children alike would gather round to see what they had been given. The stockings were also introduced at this time as a place for children's gifts to be stored.
Traditionally the gifts that were given at Christmas time would be in the form of fruit, small toys and money. Today, people will give and receive all manner of different types of gifts. Though even today some families will try and retain some element of tradition and give home-made gifts as part of their celebrations.