Throughout the world, across cultures, and cutting through the clutter of fads, Christmas presents itself to us each year as a magical occasion. The sight of a big, sparkling Christmas tree littered with beautiful lights, placed in the centre of a hall with friends and family gathered all around, having a wonderful time - how can an evening get any more momentous? The smell of cinnamon and fresh coffee, maybe even the aroma of a nice drink in the evening - these are staples in a joyous occasion we know and love each year. And is there an occasion as widely celebrated, and as universally enjoyed, as the wondrous vision of Christmas?
And how can we forget the buzz and excitement of Christmas shopping? Selecting the right present, as tricky as it can get at times, gives us the kind of warmth and satisfaction that little else does. Of course, we’re responsible citizens, and we’re answerable to a budget we’ve put down for ourselves. But does that really get in the way of our enjoying the process of selecting the right gift? Can the price or size of a present ever truly encapsulate the thought that went into acquiring it for another? Thankfully not. A thoughtful Christmas present communicates to your loved one that you care, that you’ve been present, and that you will continue to treasure the relationship. The thoughtfulness you show makes it personal, the gesture makes it unique.
When was the last time you received a Christmas gift that you really wanted? Better yet, when was the last time you were blessed with a present that you weren’t even aware of desiring? Christmas is an occasion when miracles come true, and it is in that ethereal space of miracles where the simple practice of exchanging gifts transforms into an art. After all, your loved ones don’t reallyexpectthat you will give them something of value on Christmas. The same holds true the other way around as well. When we speak of miracles, we dive into the realm of the imagination, places where expectations cannot tread. And when we speak of exchanging gifts as an art, we are consciously acknowledging the role that creativity plays in being thoughtful and present to our loved ones’ needs.
We know that Christmas is a time of relaxation, comfort, and celebration. Yet, we also understand that people go out of their way to select the right present to give their friends and family, and sometimes the whole process can cause stress and frustration. Is this absolutely necessary? After all, isn’t it enough if we spend time with our loved ones? Why do we go through the effort of acquiring a material object and presenting it as a gesture?
Social psychologists have been studying this phenomenon for a long time. The conclusions they draw are often nuanced and varied, but there are two simple factors we can point to. First and foremost, we give gifts to make others happy. Human beings are social creatures. When we see others in a positive frame of mind, it makes us feel relaxed internally as well. So, while on the surface gift-giving might seem like an altruistic gesture, the truth is that it is just as motivated by our own desires.
The second aspect of the practice is that it is a symbolic gesture. A Christmas present is not some random material object whose possession moves from one person to another; the very gesture itself is tied to our propensity for meaning. What does gift-giving represent? It serves as a metaphor for the strength of our relationships. It represents a shared spirit of generosity and kindness. And it is a way of solidifying our connections via an alternate form of communication. When you select a present that your friend or family member really wants, and is moved by, you’re essentially acknowledging their desires and their personhood. It shows that you are conscious of the other person’s needs in the relationships, but more importantly, it implies that being thoughtful about each other is perfectly natural.
The tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas is distinguished by a long and rich history. Trends come and trends go, but the Christmas-gift-unwrapping heritage remains popular, unscathed by cultural shifts over time across the world. Throughout the world, the 25th of December is celebrated with a sense of joy and abandon, and people - especially children - eagerly anticipate that age-old tradition of discovering Christmas treasures.
The gesture of selecting, preparing, and eventually, gifting something of value to family, friends, and peers, is still cherished because it is seen as something of a miracle. Irrespective of which part of the world you’re in, you will find that the Christmas tradition is honoured by people from all walks of life - a reminder that certain customs transcend the rational approach to life. Just as we seek to discover and express beauty in art, we long for customs that capture the essence of our connection to one another. Our deepest connections are not tethered to logic, and that is perhaps why we share our joys in such a festive manner. And it is hard to find a tradition more widely celebrated than Christmas.
Gift-giving and unwrapping is such a popular tradition that entire industries have flourished around the simple custom. When Christmas time is around the corner, several brands and big names ready themselves to market and distribute their finest creations. It isn’t just about jumping on a bandwagon and milking trends; a great deal of creativity goes into understanding what people look for when they are out shopping, acquiring something of value to gift a loved one.
Christmas is such a widely celebrated occasion that we tend to take our more cherished gestures on the day for granted. Every tradition has its roots in the past, in so much as it is a lens into the present day. Christmas is no different. How exactly did the time-honoured tradition of exchanging gifts on Christmas come into being? How long has it been around? What does it represent? Well, just to ensure that we never lose sight of what makes the tradition special, we’re going to explore the answers to these important questions.
Friendships, especially ones that begin in our childhood years, retain a special place in our hearts. Over time, things change - we head out to university, apply for jobs, settle into a routine, and maybe even move far from our hometown. Our closest childhood friends become long-distance pals; and though we no longer get to spend much time having a laugh with and confiding in them, we treasure those moments when we get to catch up with them.
A strong long-distance friendship, or even a relationship with a partner, can be a beautiful thing when we devote quality time to it. There are no hard-and-fast rules for this kind of thing - you have to use your intuition, communicate well, and play it by ear. And it’s an incredible feeling when you realize that the two sides are on the same page. It means that the bond is strong to the extent that even time cannot manage to ravage its core, and that’s really something. When Christmas comes around each year, naturally, the first thing you’re going to think of is getting your long-distance friend a special gift.
It isn’t the plethora of options available to you today that makes this seem like a daunting task. It’s just that it’s hard to surprise someone who knows you only too well - to get him something that he’ll find useful, and which still has that special something that makes it more than just apracticalgift. In other words, how does one go about selecting a gift that is useful, but has an unmistakable personal touch that makes it unique? Before we dive into the dos and don’ts of the gift selecting process, and ideas for a special gift, let’s explore the history and evolution of Christmas gift-giving.
The most fascinating thing about the widely-practiced custom of exchanging gifts is that it is not exclusive to the Christian tradition. There is something universal and inexplicable about the endeavor. In the Jewish tradition, for instance, people exchange gifts in celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Even in Hinduism, devotees celebrate Pancha Ganapati in a similar fashion, in honour of Lord Ganesha.
In the Christian tradition, the gift-giving custom alludes to a specific tale of historical significance. The practice is symbolic of the gesture made by the Three Wise Men to a baby Jesus during the events of Nativity. The New Testament of the Bible speaks of Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar - known as the Three Magi - venturing out to discover the location of Jesus’s entry into the world. They trace their path by following a star, and upon discovering their future savior, present him with gifts of gold.
It is worth noting that the gift-giving tradition harks back to a period even before Christianity came into being - it has its roots in ancient Roman traditions. During the festival of Saturnalia, roughly from the 17th to the 23rd of December, people made gestures in honour of the agricultural god, Saturn. Saturnalia was celebrated with pomp and zeal; exchanging gifts, parties, and celebratory festivities were customary. It is believed that, during the occasion, hierarchies would be temporarily dissolved. Everyone would enjoy themselves and free speech would be embraced.
During Saturnalia, gifts would be exchanged and unwrapped on a specific day. That day, the 19th of December, was referred to as Sigillaria, when the ancient Romans would exchange relatively simple gifts like candles, cutlery, and even seasonal figurines. In fact, the more mundane the gift, the stronger it would signify the bond of that particular friendship. The people would celebrate the occasion wildly, but gift-giving was supposed to represent humility in friendship. Many masters or bosses, in a spirit of generosity that was well ahead of its time, would give their employees or clients something similar to a bonus amount, which was known as ‘sigillarcium’.
The tradition carried on, well into periods beyond ancient Rome. One could say that the festive atmosphere of Saturnalia never really corroded; the celebratory atmosphere, the generosity of spirit, lavish activities and entertainment - these eventually became staples on occasions that mark the closing of each year, as people welcome the next one and boldly embrace changes.
AD 312 witnessed the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity, allowing historians to conclude that the pagan era of celebrations had come to an end. However, many religious authority figures did not ban Saturnalia right away, fearing a backlash. Many historians are inclined to believe that the Christmas tradition was established in order for the empire to successfully dissolve the former.
These changes happened over time and it is near impossible to fully grasp the complexity of cultural shifts, hard as one might try. What is abundantly clear when we look back is that when Christianity introduced Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it welcomed the carrying-over of the tradition of exchanging gifts from its predecessors.
Thus, when we come down to the essence of celebratory gestures, we might conclude that gift-giving was neither a pagan custom nor a Christian evolution. It is a universal practice that human beings have followed since the dawn of time. Christian imagery associated with gift-giving illustrates the life of Nikolas of Myra, who in the 4th century became widely popular with people for his kindness and generosity. He would acquire and hand over presents to people from all walks of life, which earned him the title of Saint Nicholas. Today, there isn’t a mythological figure more universally popular than ‘Santa Claus’. The origin of that name? We go all the way back to the story of Saint Nicholas.
Nicholas’s kindness and generosity of spirit are embodied in the character of Santa Claus. People pay tribute to the Nicholas persona all over the world, particularly in Europe, where his feast is heartily celebrated as a momentous occasion on 6th December. Saint Nicholas is popularly known as Pere Noel in France, and Sinterklaas in Netherlands, and his character of the gift-giver has played a monumental role in European folklore since the medieval era. Children in particular are enamored by this character because of his free and generous spirit. There is an innocence to Christmas, a sense of starting over, that people from all cultures in different parts of the world can relate to.
Over the centuries, Christianity grew rapidly and established customs that were followed across the world. An increasing number of people embraced the gift-giving-and-exchanging Christmas tradition, and also accepted its cultural significance at the end of each year. In Britain, Anglo-Saxon folk converted to Christianity through missionaries from Irish Celtic and Roman traditions. This was hardly a period that one could describe as a ‘smooth transition’, but the Christmas gift custom softened many a blow, and it was widely embraced by the common people across Europe.
As we move further into times more recognizable to the modern man, in the 17th century, people known as the Pilgrims began establishing a new, stricter strand of Christianity that emphasized puritanical beliefs and customs. Starting with their first colony in North America, they eventually ventured further out and acquired more followers, all of whom came to regard gift-giving as a form of excess and grandeur that was not in accordance with their tradition. The festival of Christmas was banned in many parts of America.
However, by the end of the 19th century, the zeal and vigor that people instinctively felt during Christmas could no longer be ignored. Their proclivity for generosity and shared celebration could no longer be denied to them. In 1870, Christmas was officially recognized as a state holiday in New England, and every part of the world followed through on the declaration. As the 20th Century began, people across the globe had widely accepted the rightful place of the ‘Christmas present’ in the annals of history. The tradition came to be seen for what it was: a miracle driven by the universal spirit of kindness.
In the United States during the 20th century, Christmas became a massive phenomenon. As the second World War concluded and the image of the ‘American dream’ came into being, the Christmas gift exchanging tradition took on a life of its own. The declaration of independence in the country marked the separation of the Church and the State, yet the constitution acknowledged that the majority of Americans were free to practice their faith as they pleased, with or without religious trappings of the past. The Christian principles informing the Christmas tradition were left intact, and more people took to sharing gifts to mark the occasion.
The figure of Santa Claus took on new significance, as he came to represent both secular and cultural values. In this regard, he is truly unique, and few other cultural figures have had such a universal impact. The wondrous vision of Santa Claus coming down the chimney to leave beautiful, lavish gifts for the children of the home, is universal and timeless. Several brands were able to capitalize on this very image, and many like Coca-Cola created campaigns around it. Fashion brands, gaming companies, and even the food and drink sector, thrived on the Christmas present buzz that continues to this day.
In the late 20th century, as globalization became an undeniable phenomenon and force, Santa Claus, with his wide array of presents, moved into parts of the world where the 25th of December was hardly seen as a commercial event. Even in countries where the religion is not pervasive - for instance, in Japan where less than 1% of the population identifies as Christian - the Christmas gift-giving tradition is widely celebrated nonetheless. Many celebrate the occasion with enthusiasm but in a purely secular sense.
Today, the internet has opened up new avenues as well as new worlds of possibility with regard to Christmas gift shopping. We are at a stage when many people - irrespective of their background - are likely to purchase a number of gifts at a time for various friends and relatives, rather than choosing each present individually. The art of exchanging gifts is now an intrinsic part of a range of living spaces, be it a couples’ home, the old family home, your workplace, or a living room where friends can get together and have a good time.
Online shopping has become an important phenomenon through which we understand cultural shifts and trends. Studies have shown that, in developed countries, less than one out of every seven people in the average population opt for in-store shopping. While some may romanticise the age-old custom of going physically to a store and selecting presents for loved ones, it is hard to deny just the range of options now readily available at any given time.
Before, heading out to a set of stores or visiting a mall was customary, and selecting presents was something of an event which would take hours. This had both its pros and cons. But today, what’s incredible is that you can browse through an ocean of interesting ideas for gifts without having to step out of your home. Moreover, why go through the hassle of having to ask for a day off work, when you can easily do your shopping in front of your system. All in all, it would hardly be a stretch to observe that the world wide web has given Christmas shopping a new lease of life.
Today, the exchange of gifts during Christmas celebrations represents a melting pot of cultures and traditions, both religious and secular. Even within the Western world, there are a number of families who celebrate the occasion without any overt reference to Christian imagery. As we move into developing countries and explore their expressions of the Christmas tradition, we truly come to understand just how far Christmas has transcended its origins.
On the other hand, there are, of course, many devout families as well who mark the occasion by attending services in their church, and decorate their homes to remind each other of the festival’s religious significance. Church services revolve around the observation of prayer, and there are a number of believers for whom Christmas is much more than just a festive occasion. It represents a particular path and way of life. While there is an enormous amount of diversity in the way Christmas is celebrated, the ritual of gift-giving remains a universal and sacred custom across the world.
In the modern age, people seldom choose to observe a custom simply because they have to. They do it because they want to. It is worth considering the simple observable fact that the reason people exchange gifts is to show affection and appreciation for one another. The gift of giving allows the generosity of the human spirit to manifest in real life, and this gift enriches their lives and those of their loved ones.
Across cultures, and beyond linear history, the act of gifting others has long been a human endeavor to express kindness. It goes without saying that it is one that will persevere and remain important in the future.
But how does one go about selecting a gift? Is there a right and wrong approach? Are there fixed markers for these things? Well, not exactly. There isn’t a strictly right approach, as there aren’t indicators that can be viewed as common to all people. We’re all different, as are our loved ones. There are, however, a few important points one could keep in mind while selecting gifts. And we’re going to explore them here.
The act of giving a christmas present is more than about yourself or the recipient as individuals. The Journal of Experimental Social psychology once conducted a study which showed that it is highly likely that the recipient will feel a greater bond with you when your present reflects your own personality. Your likes, your dislikes, and preferences come into play.
In short, gift-giving is not just about acknowledging that you know the other person well, but that you are open and willing to share your authentic self with them as well.
The cliche that opposites attract certainly holds true in some cases. However, a gift needn’t be chosen on this premise. Selecting the right present shouldn’t be relegated to the rank of a gamble. If anything, it gives you an even greater reason to be thoughtful and select a present that will make you feel more in tune with your friend or partner. We know, we understand - reality rarely ever handles the weight of expectations, but that’s no reason to stop you from digging deep to discover what your friend or partner might truly enjoy for a present.
As is the case with any relationship, communication is important. We get it, you want the gift to be a surprise. That’s a wonderful thought. You need to be discreet about your inquiry. Ask your friend or partner a set of questions, and his or her answer might point you in the right direction. Needless to say, avoid dead giveaways, such as “what is the one thing you wish you’d bought yourself”. Instead, focus on practical questions, and discover things about them that you may not have otherwise.
When it comes to romantic relationships, all too often, young men fall into the trap of wanting to impress their long-distance partners with lavish gifts. Not only does this not work, it can often be terribly off-putting to women who might view the situation as some sort of a game their partner is playing, rather than a gesture that is true to the spirit of Christmas.
Young men who have not understood the value of commitment in a relationship may choose to give shower lavish gifts that smack of self-gratification rather than generosity. As ever, self-awareness plays such an essential role in maintaining a sense of balance in a relationship; the more self-aware one is, the more he or she is likely to choose a present that they value themselves, and in turn, one that their partner will cherish for a long time. Practicality is important, but so is longevity.
There’s nothing your long-distance friend or partner would appreciate more than good humour; something to remind them of the best of times, to put a smile on their faces even during the toughest times. Christmas is a time for love, kindness, and comfort, but it’s also about being merry and having a great time. What better way to celebrate the end of the year than looking back with humour? You may want to get your friend or partner a gift that makes them laugh, and helps them remember the good times.
That said, you don’t want to go too far the other way, where the very gesture is treated flippantly. The point of Christmas is not to treat your relationships lightly, but to be thoughtful and generous in a way that might make everyone feel lighter.
Why revisit an old idea when you can ignite your imagination with a fresh one this year? Why go back to the drawing board and get hung up on a worn-out gift that you’ve already given, when you can, instead, surprise your loved one with a special Christmas present? It’s time to think outside the box. Here are 5 unique gift ideas that you can choose from:
We get it, at first glance, one might be tempted to think, “candles, really?” But a wide array of brands have been tapping into our homebody-love for candles, and many have introduced wonderful scented candles. These can be decorational miracles in your loved ones’ room, giving it a unique quality that sets it a class apart.
Moreover, candles are old-school. They are perfect if you want a room to feel “lived-in”. Scented candles add an aroma to the surrounding, and can even be therapeutic. They can work their way into your senses and create a unique, relaxed experience of the space you’ve settled into for the evening. What better way to celebrate Christmas?
Mixtapes have always been a special way of capturing the essence of a long-distance friendship or relationship. Let’s face it, over the years, thanks to their presence in movies and blogs, they’ve become something of a cliche. Playlists have been done to death too, and yet, some of them stand out so tall that you are compelled to keep revisiting them. How does this happen? As with just about every other Christmas gift idea in the world, you have a chance to transform a time-worn idea into something magical.
Here’s what you can do: collect all the raw material you need to make the playlist special. Jot down anecdotes, unique quotes from your friend or family member that you remember, special memories that you’ve shared together, and most importantly, don’t forget the funny stuff! Humour goes a long way. When you create the playlist, you want to choose songs that fit into these complex portraits you’ve weaved, never the other way around. Here’s your shot at delivering musical paradise that your loved one can cherish for a lifetime.
Silk pillowcases are becoming really popular as luxury items that provide a range of benefits. The fabric ensures that there is a minimal amount of friction, and your loved one can sleep comfortably. No ruffling of the hair, and no harm done to the skin, unlike regular pillowcases.
Moreover, they are cooling and good for your skin in the long run. They make the bed look better, and they make it feel better whether you’re lying down and relaxing or drifting off into one of your treasured dreams. What more can a loved one ask for?
Let’s face it, a great jacket never goes out of fashion. Jackets are just cool, as are blazers, and whether semi-formal or casual, they can be timeless when the design and aesthetic are impeccable. A beautiful floral jacket with a shimmery quality specially made for Christmas - we guarantee your long-distance friend or partner will absolutely love it.
What’s more, unlike most other clothing, jackets can actually get better with time, the more they’re worn. They can acquire a rustic quality that makes them stand out, while at the same time, if they’re well-crafted, the stitch and design remain intact.
Some people choose to give their loved ones thyme, or coriander, or basil as gifts. In our opinion, this is a thoughtful and wonderful idea. Why not take it to its logical conclusion? What if you give someone an item that gives them the opportunity to grow their own herbs. What if you give them, let’s say, an indoor herb garden for them to maintain? If your friend or family member is the kind of person who loves nature and organic food, there’s a good chance they’ll love this present.
Today, you can find an indoor herb garden that comes with a convenient watering and plant system, complete with lights to ensure that you have continual access to fresh herbs, without needing to go through any of the hassles of manual gardening. Here is a gift that is both practical and unique, and one which provides long-term health benefits to top it all.
Every year, we watch our long-distance friends, family, and even our colleagues, get excited as Christmas draws near. The joy that we experience when our loved one unwraps a present we’ve spent a long time selecting can seldom be captured in words. It is a joy that is unparalleled, and all we can do is stand back and witness the momentous occasion, as reservoirs of gratitude and grace enter our hearts. And that is precisely why selecting the right present can make all the difference in making this Christmas unique, an occasion to cherish for the years to come.
As we’ve enquired together earlier in the article, the world has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when human beings had to struggle for their simplest needs, and hierarchies were so clearly established as people were divided on the basis of our colour and creed. But even in ancient times, gift-giving was accepted as essential and intrinsic to our collective well-being. Where may we find the key to solving the mystery of ageless customs? Perhaps we are not meant to, but only to treasure and enjoy the simplest gestures for what the qualities within us that they represent.
Needless to say, the symbolism of gift-giving has undergone several changes as well. Today, we are more readily available to shower lavish gifts on our loved ones; not just because we can, but because we are always a step away from doing the thing that will make them happy and proud. We are also moved every time we unwrap a gift and find something we’ve been desiring for a long time - or better yet, to find something we weren’t aware that we really wished to possess. We are touched by simple gestures made by a loved one when they reflect a thoughtfulness that’s rare.We’ve gone through a list of simple but special presents that might make your loved ones happy. We’ve explored the history of Christmas gift-giving. And we’ve established the extent to which the custom of exchanging presents is foundational to our nature as social beings. Just as Christmas presents have evolved over a long and rich history, your friendships and relationships have naturally taken a course of their own and helped you wade through your own unique journey. While the perfect present can capture the essence of your long-distance relationship with a friend, partner, or loved one, the next stage of its journey will be guided by powerful things even greater than the warmest gestures.