The Origin of the Christmas Gift |

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Mat 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.


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Christmas - Presents


Perhaps one of the most widely honored rituals surrounding Christmas is the giving of gifts.

"Christmas is typically the largest economic stimulus for many nations around the world as sales increase dramatically in almost all retail areas" ("Statistics").

According to the online statistics portal, the 2013 holiday retail sales in the United States amounted to about 592 billion U.S. Dollars ("Holiday Retail"). The Retail Insight Center at the National Retail Federation puts the holiday season retail industry sales for 2014 at over 600 Billion dollars ("Holiday Sales"). There can be no doubt a significant amount of money is spent around the world on Christmas presents each year. This is not a new phenomenon. Pagans have been exchanging gifts at this time of year since at least the fourth century. As surely as people today save all year in order to have money for Christmas presents, so did the pagans of Rome in the fourth century. Here, Mr. Miles quotes Libanius' description of the events he witnessed at the Kalends in fourth century Rome.

"The festival of the Kalends is celebrated everywhere as far as the limits of the Roman Empire extend. . . . The impulse to spend seizes everyone. He who the whole year through has taken pleasure in saving and piling up his pence, becomes suddenly extravagant. He who erstwhile was accustomed and preferred to live poorly, now at this feast enjoys himself as much as his means will allow. . . . People are not only generous towards themselves, but also towards their fellow-men. A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides. . . . The highroads and footpaths are covered with whole processions of laden men and beast. . . . As the thousand flowers which burst forth everywhere are the adornment of spring, so are the thousand presents poured out on all sides, the decoration of the Kalends feast" (qtd. in Miles 168).

We have already seen how eloquently Libanius captured the spirit of gift giving in the statements he made about the Kalends in the section called Feast of Origin. His statement makes clear the practice of giving gifts has been associated with pagan ritual at this time of year for a very long time. Mr. Miles tells us on page 168 of his book titled Christmas in Ritual and Tradition the giving of gifts can be traced to a time when the people and the Senate in Rome were expected, or in some cases required, to provide gifts and solemn wishes of prosperity for the New Year to the Emperor. Though most likely the current tradition of gift giving at Christmas is descended from the Kalends, one should note the ancient Romans also had a gift giving tradition at the Sigillaria, which was celebrated on the 23rd of December. Mr. Miles connects the Sigillaria and the Saturnalia on page 113 of his book.

Every ritual in paganism is performed as a form of worship. The practice of gift giving is no exception. The following quote links the practice directly to the groves so often condemned in our Bibles.

"According to tradition they [Roman strenae or gifts] were originally merely branches plucked from the grove of the goddess Strenia, and the purpose of these may well have been akin to that of the greenery used for decorations, viz., to secure contact with a vegetation spirit" (Miles 277).

The grove has always been at the very heart of the Christmas gift giving tradition.

The grove has always been at the very heart of the Christmas gift giving tradition. Today, the representative of the grove is brought into the home in the form of a Christmas tree, and the presents are then piled high beneath it. The grove has from the very earliest times been a snare to the people of God. This verse tells us Ahab built a grove and it provoked God to anger.

1Ki 16:33 And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.

There are numerous verses condemning the groves. These next verses connect the grove to other idol worship and also tell us this is one of the practices God had warned the people not to do because the heathens around them were doing it.

2Ki 17:15 And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
2Ki 17:16 And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.

In a previous chapter, we learned Baal was a sun god, and it was from the worship of the sun being merged with the worship of Christ that Christmas day was born. Now we see from the Bible there is a connection between the groves and Baal. We also see all the heathens around the people of God were using groves in their service to Baal. This is the same situation Christians find themselves in today. The world all around is engaging in this practice of setting up a Christmas tree and piling presents beneath it. Does this in any way glorify God? How is God glorified by giving a gift to other people who already have more than any other culture which came before us? Those who have some extra change, a roof over their head, and modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing and electricity already have more than all of those who came before us. Today in the U.S., even the poorest of the poor often have these things or access to them. But, the poorest of the poor are not the norm. The average citizen in most modern countries has these things and much, much more. The people exchanging gifts most likely have cars, and cell phones, and washers, and dryers, and ovens, and the list goes on and on. Every year there are complaints expressed by someone shopping for someone else who "already has everything." How does heaping another trinket on that pile of "everything" glorify God? This is supposedly the season to commemorate the birth of Christ. Does the Bible tell us people exchanged gifts when Christ was born? No. The Bible tells us they brought gifts to Christ.

Mat 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

The practice of exchanging gifts with each other at this time of year is of purely pagan origin. The connection between Christmas gift giving and roman paganism is made sure on more than one front. Here, Mr. Miles reiterates what we have already seen from the pen of Libanius; this Christmas tradition is a descendant of the Roman Kalends.

"In many countries however, present-giving is attached to the ecclesiastical festival of Christmas. This is doubtless largely due to attraction from the Roman New Year's Day [Kalends] to the feast hallowed by the church" (Miles 277).

Through the years, there have been attempts to "Christianize" the practice of giving gifts at Christmas.

"Der Haus-Christ Literally 'The House Christ,' a 16th-century German term for the gift-bringer. German Protestants, who wished to abolish the Catholic cult of saints, needed a replacement for St. Nicholas as the traditional bearer of presents at Christmas. Clergymen chose to speak of Christ himself as the bringer of good things at Christmas and his collection of gifts as the 'Christ-bundle'" (Bowler "Der Haus-Christ").

This quote shows how the Protestants recognized the pagan roots of the gift giving practice during the reformation. However, rather than abandoning the pagan practice, they chose to attempt to "Christianize" the practice. Ironically this is exactly what the Catholic Church had done twelve centuries earlier. The reformers were condemning the Roman church for incorporating paganism into the church, but the reformers themselves were unwilling to completely walk away from the cult-like behavior.

The discussion of Christmas gifts would not be complete without making mention of the fact the Christmas gift is not always given in the spirit of generosity. History is witness to the fact the practice of gift giving at Christmas has a rather cruel history in the United States. Slave owners would often use the Christmas gift as a means of controlling and punishing slaves as we see in the following quote.

"The historian Kenneth Stampp notes that 'the value and quantity of the presents often depended upon their [slaves] conduct during the past year.' . . . Planters used the ritual of Christmas gift-giving to provide their slaves with necessities (winter clothing for example). The historian Norrece Jones has pointed this out, adding that '[p]lanters could thus arrange to appear loving and magnanimous before 'their people' — even when furnishing basic necessities'" (Nissenbaum 272-73).

The slave owners saw the benefit of being seen as generous during the holiday.

"I killed twenty-eight head of beef for the people's [slaves] Christmas dinner. I can do more with them in this way than if all the hides of the cattle were made into lashes" (qtd. in Nissenbaum 273).

We can see by these quotes how the holiday has been used to control slaves. Other sources show how the church has always "Christianized" the pagan holidays and adopted the pagan practices associated with those holidays as a means of controlling the people as a whole.

"The priest learns that many of the beliefs and practices of 'folklore' are harmless; if attached to the calendar year of the Church they can be to that degree Christianized, and can serve to reinforce the Church's authority. What matters most is that the Church should, in its rituals, command the rites of passage of personal life, and attach the popular festivals to its own calendar. The Anglican Church of the eighteenth century was not a creature of this kind. It was served not by priests but by parsons. . . . Above all, the Church lost command over the 'leisure' of the poor, their feasts and festivals, and, with this, over a large area of plebeian culture" (Thompson).

Throughout the centuries, there have always been those who would speak out against Christmas and the materialism associated with it. There have been church leaders from almost every denomination who in times past encouraged their church to forgo the man made traditions associated with the day. Here is one such quote.

"If all, both old and young, will forego giving presents to one another, and forego the selfish outlay of means in these coming holidays, there would be in heaven a most precious record of self-denial for Christ’s sake" (White par. 9).

This particular quote is from not only a church leader, but from one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist church. Modern church goers from almost every protestant denomination ignore the counsel of their founders, when that counsel is to abstain from the Roman traditions associated with Christmas.

Is Giving Gifts at Christmas a Christian Tradition or a Pagan Ritual?

1. Giving gifts at the end of the year was a well-established pagan tradition since at least the fourth century.
2. Giving Christmas gifts can be traced to the Kalends where people were required to give gifts to the emperor.
3. Christmas gift giving can be tied directly to the Strenia and groves condemned in the Bible.
4. The Bible connects the groves to Baal/sun worship which corresponds with what we have learned about Christmas originating in sun worship.
5. God is not glorified by giving gifts to people who already have more than any other culture which came before.
6. People in the Bible did not exchange gifts when Christ was born. They brought gifts to Christ.
7. The practice of exchanging gifts with each other at Christmas is of purely pagan origin.
8. The reformers criticized the Catholic Church for incorporating the pagan gift giving ritual into the church, but then failed to abolish the practice.
9. The reformers attempt to Christianize this pagan ritual during the reformation has resulted in the "Christ-bundle."
10. The practice of gift giving at Christmas has a cruel history in the United States; slave owners used the Christmas gift as a means of controlling and punishing slaves.
11. The church "Christianized" pagan rituals, in part, as a means of controlling the people.
12. Many Church leaders from many different denominations have spoken out against Christmas and the materialism associated with it.

Our next step through the rituals of Christmas will focus on the recipients of many of the Christmas gifts. The children.


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Christmas Book Chapter 7

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