The Lost Art of Christmas Gift Giving

Image: Bob Dmyt

For many of us, December brings a certain kind of joy.  It is time to bring out the Christmas decorations and infuse some festivity in your home.  Christmas baking starts, friends gather, and the shopping frenzy begins.  Christmas has become the busiest season for the retail industry, achieving trillions of dollars in sales worldwide.  Even with COVID-19, Canadians are estimated to spend up to $1,841 this holiday season.  That’s an increase of 31 percent over last year.  With all this commercialism in full force, I begin to wonder, whatever happened to gift-giving from the heart?

Giving Gifts is Part of Our History

Giving has been a part of our world since the beginning of time, starting with the cavemen.  This ancient tradition was an integral part of the community.  It established dominance and respect and was often an indication of the start of a family.  In addition, tribe leaders gifted community members who accomplished something of importance. 

As people evolved, the practice of giving gifts remained.  Pagans held rituals to honor their Gods and Goddesses and celebrate the change of seasons.  Their gift of choice was food.  With the introduction of Christianity, gift-giving ingrained itself into Christmas.  According to Christianity, the Three Wise Men gave gifts to baby Jesus on the day of his birth, and thus the giving of gifts is symbolic of this event. 

During the 11th-century, wicker baskets were filled with savory treats, drinks, and clothing and offered to the poor. The elite members of society often hosted their friends and neighbors, offering food and small tokens of gratitude and appreciation.  The meaning of the gift would outweigh its value.

The start of exploration opened trade routes, bringing new fruits and spices.  Nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, apricots, and dates were introduced and made their way into various sweet treats.  But still, only the wealthiest families could afford these treats. These people started making cookies and sweets to share these gifts at Christmas.

For many centuries, gift-giving took place on December 6th or early January.  First celebrated as Saint Nicholas Day to remember a Christian bishop who helped the needy, it moved to December 25th in the 19th century.  The 1823 poem “The Night Before Christmas” and the 1843 story “A Christmas Carol” helped give this celebration its modern-day popularity.

Image: K. Syffka

What Happened?

Holiday cookies trace their roots as far back as the rituals from centuries ago.  Gifts of produce, like apples and eggs, were commonplace amongst people in the olden days. How did we get from such simple gifts to where we are today?  According to StatsCan (December 2017), we purchased 91.2 million trees, 4.9 billion dollars worth of food, and 3.9 billion dollars of retail purchases.  E-commerce added 1.9 billion dollars in sales.  Christmas has become a time of overspending and overindulgence. We have lost the art of gift-giving, and that is truly sad.

For this reason, I always try to go back to the origins of gift-giving and make cookie trays to gift to friends and family.  I bake all week and share my efforts with those that are a part of my life.  When my son was small, I encouraged him to craft a gift for his father and cousins. I believe we should all remember that giving a gift is not about the latest electronic gadget or game, but rather what our ancestors intended – a token of gratitude, appreciation, and love.

Giving Gifts from the Heart

You may not be an expert baker, but even making the simplest of cookies placed in a Christmas tin is a gift from the heart.  After all, even Santa likes cookies at Christmas! If cookies aren’t for you, some other food gifts can be an easy task.  Here are five other great ideas for Christmas gifts:

  1. Dipped Pretzels:  Melt white chocolate in the microwave in 30-second intervals until soft. Dip the end of the pretzel into the melted white chocolate and place it onto a parchment paper-lined tray to harden. For an added festive touch, dip the coated end into some Christmas sparkles while it is still wet, and then place them on a lined tray to harden. Line a small Christmas box with decorative paper and place the prepared pretzels
  2. Hot Chocolate Takeaways: Fill a mason jar to ¾ with hot chocolate mix and fill the rest with a layer of mini marshmallows and a candy cane. Wrap a ribbon around the rim, and voila! Instant gift.
  3. Infused Oils: Purchasing pre-made infused oils can be expensive, and they are so easy to make at home.  Use good olive oil to start.  Add your olive oil along with your choice of flavor infusions (fresh herbs, dried chili, garlic, etc.) to a small saucepan and simmer on low for 20 minutes.  Do not allow the oil to boil.  Strain the additions through a sieve into a bottle.  Allow cooling before sealing. Wrap a festive ribbon at the top.
  4. Charcuterie Board:  This gift uses ready-made products you can place onto a small wooden tray. Place some olives in a small mason jar. Add to the center of the tray and surround it with an assortment of packaged foods along the side. Some ideas include wrapped brie, salami stick of choice (calabrese is a good option), dried figs, and some crackers of choice.
  5. Fudge:  Who doesn’t love fudge?!  Homemade fudge can be as easy as 1-2-3.  Place 3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, 1 can of condensed milk, and ¼ cup butter into a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on medium until the chips are melted (approximately 3 to 5 minutes).  Stir at the 2-minute mark.  Once the chocolate melts, you can add one cup of nuts of your choice (this is optional). Place the mixture into an 8” x 8” baking dish lined with parchment paper.  Refrigerate until set and cut into squares.  Line a small Christmas box with decorative paper and place the fudge in the box.

Some Final Fun Christmas Facts

Image: Photorama

What’s Christmas without a bit of added knowledge to impress your family and friends.  I know I’ll be sharing some of these fun facts!

Did You Know? Setting out milk and cookies for Santa can be linked back to Norse mythology.  People would leave treats for Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipner.  This God would stop by during the Christmas season during hunting and snack on the cookies.  This tradition was later adapted for Father Christmas’ horse and finally for Saint Nicholas, a bishop known for his kindness to children.  Saint Nick transformed into what is now the legend referred to as Santa.

Did You Know? There are 33 festively named places in Canada.  Wouldn’t you like to live in Candyville, Christmas Island, Noëlville, Reindeer Station, or Snowball?  How about Evergreen, Garland, Holly, Sugarcane, or Winterland?  My favorite is Gift Lake.  Does this mean you get a gift every day?

Did You Know? The Christmas celebration was not always on December 25th. Historians note that there is no mention of this date in the bible. Some even argue that Jesus was born in the spring. These same historians believe the Christmas celebration coincided with pagan festivities around the same time.

Did You Know?  Christmas tree decorations originated from the Egyptians and Romans that decorated them during the winter solstice.  

Did You Know?  We can thank Coca-Cola for immortalizing the image we have of Santa Claus. In 1931, they hired an illustrator by the name of Haddon Sundblom. He depicted Santa as jolly, round, and lovable. This character captivated the world.

Did You Know?  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was almost called Rollo or Reginald. Originally developed as a marketing ploy in 1939 by the Montgomery Ward department store, the copywriters created a Christmas story for distribution to children as a promotion. They argued over the name and finally decided Rudolph was the way to go.

Did You Know?  Jingle Bells was a song written for Thanksgiving in the mid-19th century by James Lord Pierpont. Originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh”, the song was re-released in 1857 as “Jingle Bells”.  

Did You Know? The song Silent Night is the most recorded song with 733 different versions.

Did You Know?  Nearly 15,000 people end up in the ER each November and December from holiday-related decorating accidents. Clark Griswold anyone?

Did You Know?  The word mistletoe comes from the German word meaning dung on a twig. Mistle thrush birds eat the plant’s berries and then help germinate the plant with their droppings. So why has it become such a symbol of romance (kissing under the mistletoe)? The ancient Druids considered it an aphrodisiac and a symbol of fertility and virility. Blame them.  They don’t have the right idea of what romance truly is. (Dung on a twig is not it).

With this in mind, I wish you all the best at Christmastime!  Enjoy your day with family and friends.  Give some homemade gifts from the heart. Help everyone remember what the true meaning of Christmas is.  It’s a time to share, love, and appreciate the little things.  Merry Christmas, everyone! 

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