It’s a very special Story Telling Sunday today – the last one of the year. Sian has been doing this for a whole year now and it has grown from 7 stories in January to 37 in November. My story will be very short because time is short (and so am I before anyone else gets that one in).
Puddle Duck and I went shopping today and ticked a few more presents off the shopping list. A few days ago she informed me that she knew why we gave presents at Christmas. Now it is often held that present giving as we know it really started with the Victorians (as does the Christmas tree – imported from Germany by Prince Albert, but I guess everyone knows that). But really that’s the beginnings of it getting commercialised as mass production lead to a wider variety of affordable goods becoming available. One of the earliest known customs of gift giving around the time of the winter solstice was the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December and may have influenced Christmas customs. I believe that the gifts were known as Strenae and started as green boughs. They were later changed to cakes and honey and made compulsary by Caligula.
Christmas gift giving was originally banned by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages precisely because of these suspected pagan origins. It was later rationalized by the Church, either on the basis that it associated St. Nicholas with Christmas, and that gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi, or that the words ‘Kriss Kringle’ mean Christ-child and that the infant Jesus himself gave presents. Either way this helped to establish Christmas Day as an occasion for Christians to give gifts. In those days presents were very modest and included such things as cakes, fruit, nuts, dolls and items of clothing.
There are many legends surrounding St Nick. One tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nick left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry. This is the origin of the Christmas stocking (or the shoes in Scandinavia) left out for Santa Claus.
St Nicholas was often shown wearing Bishops Robes and the now iconic jolly white bearded man in red robes is credited to the Coca Cola Company in the 1950s.
Whatever the origins of Christmas gift giving I like Puddle Duck’s explanation best – “It’s Jesus Birthday and he wants us all to share his presents”.
I’ll be sharing more of Puddle Duck’s thoughts on Christmas as I share my Journal Your Christmas Album over the coming days. But that will have to wait for another day. It’s getting late and I have a green T-shirt to mend for a little Elf to wear tomorrow night.