Every child’s favorite part of Christmas is getting gifts, but actually, the tradition of giving gifts at the end of December is much older than Christmas. In ancient Rome, there was a midwinter holiday called Saturnalia, with lots of feasts and parties and even gifts. After Christianity became the main religion of the Roman empire, the holiday Saturnalia was basically changed in to Christmas, and the feasts and gift-giving continued.
However, even though the tradition of giving gifts on December 25th is older than Christmas, modern Christians make up Christian stories about why we give gifts on Christmas. Some people say that Jesus was God’s gift to the world, so we should give gifts to each other on Jesus’ birthday. Some people think about the story of the Three Wise Men, who gave gifts to Jesus’ family after he was born.
Those are the stories that I was told when I was young. I was already a twenty-something before I learned that the reason behind the gifts actually wasn’t Jesus, but the ancient Roman god Saturn, and his festival, Saturnalia.
These days, there are two main ways that we give gifts on Christmas. The first way is something that children do: they put a stocking on the fireplace with their name on it, and in the middle of the night before Christmas, their parents fill the stocking with candy or treats or other little gifts. These treats are called “stocking stuffers,” and they are usually not the main gifts. They’re just a little special surprise that adults give to kids.
The second way is to wrap a gift and give it to your friend, or put it under your family’s Christmas tree. These gifts are what we call “Christmas presents.” They are usually more expensive and personal than stocking stuffers, and since you don’t put them in a stocking, you can give them to anyone.
These days, I only give Christmas presents to my mother, my brother, and two or three close friends. Unless you are extremely good friends with someone, they probably won’t expect you to get them anything.
Deciding what to get your friends and family for Christmas can always be hard. First, you have to choose something that they like, but that they don’t already have. Second, you have to get something that’s the right price. If it’s too cheap, the other person might feel like you don’t care. If it’s too expensive, the other person might feel embarrassed that you spent so much money on them. Buying the right present requires both a high IQ and a high EQ.
For a good friend, I usually buy something around $20. Books are a good choice, because it’s easy to find out which books they have read and which ones they haven’t. Now that I live in China, I usually find something with Chinese art or Chinese characters on it for a gift, because it feels more special to someone who hasn’t been to China.
If you want to give a gift to one of your foreign friends, I recommend getting something small and not very expensive, so you don’t give them any pressure. Maybe a pretty bookmark with Chinese designs on it, or a nice-looking but not too expensive scarf. These gifts are good enough to show that you care, but not too expensive. After all, we say: “It’s the thought that counts!”
Joshua Ogden-Davis 周树华，“不看脸不知道是外国人”的中国通，来自美国得克赛斯州。●畅销书《与老外交朋友》联合作者●曾北京知名公关公司高级总监●曾李阳疯狂英语全国外教总监●曾疯狂英语杂志外箱编辑●线上娱乐教育英语交流名师●双语主持人●跨文化交流专家2010年搬到中国的时候，一句汉语都不会说。通过自学，3年以内已经进入了全中文的工作和生活环境。现在，树华用最流利的中文和英文带你搞定跨文化交流能力和深入了解中西文化差异！