Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Tradition of Gift Giving

Stores and merchants worldwide love this time of year. For some, it is the time they break even, and most of us do our part to contribute to their well-being! I did not flood the stores on Thanksgiving day, nor did you see me in one the following day, which in America is traditionally called black Friday. I wasn't in the mood.

I'm not a scrooge or a naysayer when it comes to Christmas. I love this holiday and the reason for celebrating. It is just that this time of year often brings me to the pits of depression when once again I must deal with family living so far away. Now, don't get me wrong. My hubby and I are happy to live where we do most of the year. But . . . some days are hard. A friend knows this about me and surprised me with an early gift just before Thanksgiving, a nice potpourri of herbs.

Doesn't my new plant look great in the kitchen window?
You know who you are, my friend. Thank you!

Of course, the first gift-giving at Christmastime dates back to biblical times, when the three wise men (or Magi) brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as baby gifts when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Gold is still valued today in the financial markets, as it was in biblical times (including its health benefits), but what about frankincense and myrrh? I always seem to forget what they were and went online searching for answers . . .

Frankincense is a fragrant resin found in certain trees (Boswellia genus). It was burned as incense by priests in biblical times. But did you know that frankincense was also used to cure skin diseases, aid digestion problems, treat arthritis and female hormonal problems, and heal wounds, and when burned, to ward off mosquitoes? Today it is mostly used in perfumes and incense, because of its sweet fragrance, but there is some scientific evidence it could be used to treat colitis, osteoarthritis, and Crohn's disease. 

The Three Wise Men

Likewise, myrrh is a resin found in certain trees (Commiphora
genus). It was an important ingredient used in biblical times to embalm the dead. But did you know it was also used by some as a rejuvenation tonic, and for stomach pain, kidney problems, female disorders, nervous system disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and circulation problems? Today it is used in mouth washes and toothpastes (because of its anti bacterial properties) to prevent gum disease. Further, it can be found in skin ointments and creams for various skin disorders, sprains, bruises and aches.  

Traditionally, gift-giving began with the first gift, God's gift of eternal life to the world with the birth of his son Jesus. The actual practice of gift-giving dates back to the Christmas celebration in the Middle Ages. An intense celebration of parties and feasts took place that spanned a two-week period, followed by a gift exchange at the end. It is the basis of the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. But gift-giving as we know it today probably dates back to the Victorian era in the 1840s (just think of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol), although gifts were much, much simpler then. A single gift would have been a small cake, an item of clothing, or say one small toy . . . perhaps for a girl, a homemade doll. 

Cake at Christmas

 Today gift giving on Christmas day is common in most countries around the world, even in places where the birth of Christ is not celebrated. Many people in Japan, for instance, enjoy the secular aspects of Christmas. They give gifts to each other, decorate their cities with lights, and put up Christmas trees. I saw such decorations in Singapore too when there in 1995. But it's been my observation that Christians in less affluent countries focus more on the religious aspects of Christmas (as in my friend's experience in Africa). Here in America where all of us tend to overspend during this time of year, the stress level can really go up. It's easy to lose focus in our gift giving......which is really a way to show love, but it can get lost in trying to buy the perfect gift (or number of) and forgets the person . . . or if you are a Christian, the real meaning of Christmas. All of this adds up and is probably why I balk at the early season buying rush (or procrastinate :). The preference is to jump into things slowly, and avoid being caught up in what feels like a fast moving train. Do you ever feel that way?

So now that I have that off my chest, it is time to finish the shopping, write the Christmas letter, send the cards, (decorations DID go up early), and mail those packages. We are elves to six wonderful grandchildren, and I am finally in the mood!

Copyright 2013 © Sharon Himsl
Sources: www.frankincenseandmyrrh.net/; www.dl-uk.info/christmas-gift-sending-tradition-history-origin.html; wikipedia


  1. The herbs look like they are thriving under your green thumb.
    This was a lovely article. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks. When the temperature dropped to 6 degrees, I worried they would freeze next to the window. Had to pull down the shade. Sure is hardy!

  2. Things are so strident this time of year, it's hard to remember that the underlying reason for giving gifts (and, as merchants want, getting caught up in the cycle of advertising - starting, now, before Thanksgiving) is to show love and to commemorate the first give of love. Thank you for a wonderful reminder.
    Diana at About Myself By Myself

    1. We need to band together to keep our 'sanity' and the right focus. This was a reminder to me too! It really is a beautiful time of year.

  3. I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm particularly missing my mom and her typically playing christmas music this time of year.

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, With Joy>

  4. Thanks, Sarah. We cherish the memories, don't we? Nice to meet you!

  5. Great post Sharon. Some interesting facts mingled with some heartfelt sentiment. I agree with your observations and your conclusions. When my children tell me that their friends are getting the latest iPhones, or tablet computers as Christmas presents, I'm glad they are happy with a book. My eleven year old niece and nephew are apparently getting iPads. Why? The simpler the better, right?

  6. Thanks, DA. Still it is hard to stay on track. Just today I found myself stressing again over the gifts. I really want everyone to know how much I love them. Books are a great gift idea. It's all the other things I tend to add that drives me crazy and there is no way I can afford to compete with an iPad, which brings up another problem...completing with the big spenders that make my small gift look measley. But in the end it comes down to showing love and that's what we need to concentrate on, right? Thanks for stopping by and allowing me to rant some more :) Merry Christmas!


"Stay" is a charming word in a friend's vocabulary
(A.B. Alcott). Stay and visit awhile. Your comments mean a lot to me.

About Me

My photo
You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.