If the popular tradition is that gifts are given on December 25 that has not always been the case. Christmas was not always synonymous with wrapped packages, from the gifts the Romans offered themselves, as we know them today, through the orange or the lump of coal.
Every year, young and old stop in front of the showcases of the big brands to admire automatons and carefully staged scenery. But this has not always been the case, and the tradition of giving gifts is actually quite recent.
It was at the end of the nineteenth century that the «Christmas gift» entered into customs. Encouraged by Haussmann’s work and the arrival of department stores, he became increasingly popular among aristocratic and bourgeois families. The practice is that on Nativity Day presents are offered only to children, as the Historia magazine recalls, and that adults exchange gifts on New Year’s Eve instead. The practice of buying Christmas presents dates back to ancient times, when the Romans celebrated the winter solstice and the arrival of a new year. One offers oneself Strenae (in Latin) wishing oneself a prosperous, happy and healthy year under the good guard of a goddess of health Strenia
An orange for wise and deserving children
The arrival of department stores and “the rise of the triumphant bourgeoisie have made Christmas one of the family’s great annual gatherings, gradually disguising the religious feast as a profane celebration,” explains Point Martyne Perrot, author of the Christmas present. Story of an invention (1). The child becomes heir to the family lineage and Christmas is the occasion to celebrate it.are offered to boys and girls. Lead soldiers or a mechanical train for one, sewing kits or a fake stove for the other. To these objects is added the notion of gift paper born also at the end of the 19th century – and with it, surprise and impatience at the sight of colored paper.
For children from more popular backgrounds, however, the gifts are more modest: cookies, gingerbread or small crafts toys. The wise and deserving children are fortunate to receive an orange, an extremely rare and expensive fruit at the time. The less wise receive a lump of coal.
Stories to wait for
Before Santa Claus took the role with flying colors, the families celebrated, according to the region and religion, Santa Claus (among the Protestants), Father Janvier, loaded with gifts in his winemaker’s hood, or the fairy Arie, deprived of baguette, according to Historia. All are supposed to come overnight to drop off the gifts to the children and are figures of benevolence and generosity.
Santa Claus, in his reindeer-drawn sleigh, was first sketched by an American pastor, Clement Clarke Moore, in 1823. The bishop’s mitre worn by Saint Nicholas is replaced by a cap and its handle trocked against a stick of barley sugar. His red costume was designed by illustrator Thomas Nast in 1860.
However, it is only at the beginning of the 20th century that Santa Claus will be a global success, to the great displeasure of the Catholic Church. Faced with the frequent confusion between the birth of Jesus and Santa Claus, an official warning was issued in 1952 by several bishops. A replica of the one the Americans call Santa Claus is even burned on the square of the church of Dijon. Since then, we know thatChristmas of Gifts has largely triumphed.