Friday, January 6, 2012

A question that has been bothering me a lot for the last two weeks...

...why do we exchange gifts on Christmas rather than Epiphany? Isn't it more natural to do gift exchanges on Epiphany?

Many people do it on December 6th. That makes sense, because gifts were St. Nicholas's thing.

But if you're not going to do it on December 6th, why would you do it on Christmas rather than Epiphany?


  1. In Spain, gifts are given on the epiphany.

  2. I have to agree with Jonathan, not all Christians focus on the 25th. It seems to be a more American and norther Europe thing.

  3. Right - "we" meant Americans, not Christians. I alluded to the fact that some Christians exchang gifts on December 6th after all.

    But if you're not going to do it on the 6th, what's the logic of doing it on the 25th?

  4. Maybe this has something to do with it:

  5. Why do we do it? Because it's tradition. The separate question, why did it start and catch on as the 25th? Answer: is this really a question that has been bothering you a lot for a few weeks? :)

  6. We exchange gifts at all because paganism won out over Puritanism :)

    By coincidence, the latest Dec. 30-Jan 6th issue of The Week magazine has a "Briefing" (page 11) on this topic. The highlights (it is my only source today):

    - Puritans amongst the Pilgrims said "they for whom all days are holy can have no holiday." The first Dec. 25 in the colony had people working in the fields as usual. Next year, Gov. Bradford stopped a game of "stoole-ball" being played by non-Puritan workmen. To be fair, the first Christmas at the colony would have been with starvation in the forefront.

    - "The upper classes in ancient Rome celebrated [...] the birthday of the sun god Mithra."

    - In England, "Puritans eliminated Christmas as a national holiday in 1645," and in New England it was outlawed in 1659. England restored Christmas in 1660 but not in New England "until the 1680s, when the Crown managed to exert greater control over its subjects [...]"

    - Cotton Mather is found hating on Christmas in 1712, preaching that "the feast of Christ's nativity is spent in reveling, dicing, carding, masking, and in all licentius liberty [...] by mad mirth, by long eating, by hard drinking, by lewd gaming, by rude reveling!" Horrors!

    - Ben Franklin writes in his Poor Richard's Almanac in 1739: "O blessed Season! Lov'd by Saints and Sinners / For long Devotions, or for longer Dinners."

    - "Anti-Chrismas sentiment flared up again [during] the American Revolution," and colonists associated it "with royal officialdom." The Senate, and then the House, met on December 25th in the years 1797 and 1802, respectively.

    - "A Visit From St. Nicholas" is "published in New York in 1823 to enormous success" by Clement Clarke Moore.

    - Alabama declares Christmas a holiday in 1836.

    - As late as 1850, New England schools and markets remained open on the day.

    - "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow finally noted a 'transition state about Christmas' in New England in 1856. 'The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful, hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.'"

    Christmas does not become a national holiday until President Grant declares a federal holiday in 1870.


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