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News & Press: Blog

Global seasonal giving

28 December 2012  
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The origins and different traditions of giving presents over the Christmas and New Year holiday offers us a glimpse into other cultures to have a better understanding of our own international customers.

Origins of present giving

One of the oldest present giving traditions comes from the Christian faith with the custom of giving presents reminding us of the presents of Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh given to Jesus by the three wise men. The commercialisation of Christmas started in the nineteenth century and now the buying and giving of gifts is big business with families all over the world exchanging presents.

Bearers of gifts

Most children across the world believe in a well-known gift bringer.  English and American children know him as Santa Claus, while he’s Père Noël to French speakers.  In several European countries including Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Croatia children receive presents from Christkind – literally Christ child.  In Spain it is traditionally “Los Reyes Magos” (The Three Wise Men) who bring their gifts.  On January 5 in Italy an old lady called Befena on a broom stick brings sweets and presents to good children – or coal to naughty ones!

A day to remember

The date in which presents are exchanged also differs across the globe. The earliest presents are opened on December 5 – St Nicholas Eve – by children in Holland.  In Scandinavia presents are opened on Christmas Eve while The Feast of the Epiphany on January 6is celebrated in Roman Catholic countries such as Spain and Mexico and is the latest date gifts are given.

In Russia they traditionally exchange presents on New Year’s Eve – a throwback to the years of communist rule when all Christmas traditions were transferred to December 31.  Christmas is once again celebrated in Russia but on January 7, which the Russian Orthodox Church has made an official holiday.

Made in America

Most of the popular customs associated with present giving in modern culture are largely derived from America. The present buying season has an unofficial start from Black Friday in the US, the day after Thanksgiving. After this date the commercial build up to Christmas is at its height with countries like the UK, Australia and France following suit. In countries such as India and, Mexico and China the gift giving process is far more traditional and children are given only few presents to open.

Although the meaning of Christmas may be tarnished somewhat, the idea of giving presents to close family and friends is a long treasured tradition. For children especially it remains magical to put their list under the tree on Christmas Eve and wake up to find a stocking or sack filled with presents.

So whether you are Scrooge and receive but don’t give, or if you feel you are one of Santa’s little helpers, we’d like to wish you a very happy holiday from the Institute of Export.