Tuesday, December 15, 2009

History of Gift Giving

The custom of gift giving seems to stem originally from the Roman tradition of presenting the Emperor and each other with good luck tokens, called strenae.

As is often the case, this practice escalated perhaps in an effort to receive special favours or impress, so that more precious gifts were given, clothing, gold or silver items. This occurred during Saturnalia.

However the tradition probably goes back even further to the Babylonians, when the reincarnation of Nimrod as his own son, by his wife Semiramis, was born at the Winter Solstice (late December). 

In honour of this event Semiramis organised the cutting down and decorating trees (in Roman tradition they used decorated fir trees).

By AD324 the custom of Saturnalia was ingrained in the culture and the new Christian Emperor, Constantine, needed to satisfy both his new religion and the masses. So he converted Saturnalia into Christmas. 

Part of the gift-giving tradition of the western world is tied up with the gifts of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts at the birth of Jesus. Outside of the Judao-Christian world the Druids used to make a gift of their holy plant mistletoe at the beginning of each new year.


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