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Christmas Traditions: Santa Claus and Gifts

Updated on December 8, 2014

Christmas is an annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ and is celebrated by many people around the world with a holiday on the 25th December. The actual date of Christ’s birth is not known but it was not until the 4th Century that celebrations of Christ’s birth began.

There are many traditions associated with Christmas.

One Tradition is Santa Claus

The reason why we have a Jolly White Bearded Man in a Red and White Suit called Santa Claus delivering presents around the world stems back to the 4th Century with a Bishop named Saint Nicholas who lived in the ancient Greek town of Myra. There wasn’t much known about his life but he wanted to help children and the poor.

There was one story, which says that Saint Nicholas wanted to help a poor man and his three daughters by giving them anonymous gifts of gold because they did not have enough money for each of the daughters to have a dowry so that they could get married. However this man found out that Saint Nicholas was the one giving the gifts and word spread…around Europe and then further afield. Dutch settlers who settled in America spread his stories of generosity and love there.

And because of his generosity Saint Nicholas became associated with the Christmas Holiday

Saint Nicholas Feast Day

Saint Nicholas died on December the 6th and as a saint was given his own “Feast Day “, hence St Nicholas Feast Day. This is when people celebrate with a feast and gift giving. Europeans today still celebrate on 6th December with festivals and gift giving, which leaves them Christmas Day to be focused on the Christ Child.

Why is 25th December For Christmas Day?

Pope Julius 1 lived at the same time as Saint Nicholas and he wanted to establish a date for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, as this birthdate was unknown. He chose 25th December for the holiday. There was a pagan festival at this time of year and the Pope wanted to use the holiday to christianize the celebrations. Eventually St Nicholas’s Feast Day became associated with the 25th December ( Christmas Day ) and his connection of Christmas was established.

The Changing Of Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus

Stories of St Nicholas continued for centuries but were forgotten in the 16th Century. However in the 19th century St Nicholas became a popular image in America with drawings from Alexander Anderson, who showed Saint Nicholas in a gift-giving role with children's treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. Other artists eg Thomas Nast, continued to change the image of Saint Nicholas from a bearded traditional Bishop to a jolly white bearded man in a red and white suit as seen in the 20th century.

Why the name Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas had a Dutch nickname of Sinter Klaas. This was a shortened form of Sint Nikolass, which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas. The name Santa Claus evolved from this.

Santa’s Delivery Presents Christmas Eve

A well-known tradition in western countries is that Santa Claus comes from the north on Christmas Eve and travels the world delivering gifts to children around the world in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer.

Why Reindeer and Sleigh?

The tradition of “reindeer “ as we know it today began in the 19th century with a poem written by Clement C Moore for his children, called “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” and more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

In the poem there was mention of a sleigh and eight reindeer with names Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixen. Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer was added in 1939 when Robert R. May wrote a promotional story for the Christmas season, which became an instant success, thus making nine reindeer. A song called Rudolf the Red Nosed reindeer was created in 1949.

Why The Christmas Stocking?

This stems back from Saint Nicholas when he tossed bags of gold through an open window of the poor man’s house with the three daughters (see second paragraph on Saint Nicholas) and they are said to have landed in stockings which were hanging by the fire to dry. So the tradition of hanging stockings on Christmas Eve ready to be filled by Santa Claus, eventuated.


Another Tradition Is Singing Christmas Carols and Songs

These are songs that are sung a lot during the Christmas season annually.

There is a wide variety of songs and you can get more information on the Traditional Christmas Carol and Songs Here

One of my annual traditions is to go to Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve. This is where the public can meet, hold onto lighted candles and sing Christmas Carols accompanied by a band of musicians and members of various choirs around the city. There would be some solo singing and a couple of readings. It is a very beautiful atmosphere with the glow of light and singing amongst a large group of people outside, the night before Christmas.

Another tradition is Gift Giving On Christmas Day

This is because The Three Wise Men gave Jesus presents of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh and the gift giving on Christmas Day reminds us of this.

Family and friends gather on Christmas Day and exchange gifts. Before the big day gifts need to be purchased or created and wrapped and sometimes sent away if the recipient is out of town. So there is lots of Christmas shopping to be had by all. Shops are humming and full of decorations and sales to entice the shopper in. Sometimes you get groups of people singing Christmas Carols and Songs or instrumentalists playing them which provides a lovely atmosphere to your shopping experience and get you in the Christmas Spirit.


Santa Claus is Coming To Town

Every family will have their own ritual as to when and how they do this.

Some families do the Secret Santa theme where every member pulls a name out of a hat - jar - box or whatever and that is the person they buy the gift for. A general price to spend is determined by the family.

Some families just buy for the children.

There are also options to wrap-up a Christmas Present to give to those who can't afford them. Churches and Other groups around town should have a Christmas Tree or person in charge of distribution, to donate a gift to.

In my family we would gather around the Christmas Tree. My father would give us a Christmas message and any Greetings from absent family and friends. Then someone would be elected to open the Christmas Tree by saying a few worlds including "I Declare The Christmas Tree Open"

Gifts would then be exchanged usually starting with the youngest member.

Once finished wrapping papers would the be collected and room tidied up.

The family would then progress to the Christmas Meal.

Gift Giving at Christmas

What gift giving ritual does your family do at Christmas Time?

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