With that our contemporary Christmas giving was born. Store bought gifts, manufactured gift-wrap and Scotch tape. Let the holidays begin.
A vintage can of Scotch tape. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Scotch_Tape.jpg
The Victorian idea of Christmas was not commercial, having more to do with food, and the exchanging of handmade gifts. Homemade cornucopias of paper filled with fruit, nuts, candy, and popcorn were hung from branches of trees in America and England. Beautiful shaped cookies were hung for treats on Christmas day. But by the 1880’s Macy’s department store windows were filled with wonderful dolls and toys from Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. Another window boasted scenes with steam driven moveable parts. The idea of purchased gifts had begun. http://www.thecompletevictorian.com/Christmas.html
Macy’s 1884 holiday window. http://americangirlminis.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/what-happened-elsewhere-between-addys-and-samanthas-era/
Title page of first edition of A Christmas Carol. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Title_page-First_edition_1843.jpg
The Victorian Period According to historian Ronald Hutton, the current state of observance of Christmas is largely the result of a mid-Victorian revival of the holiday, spearheaded by Charles Dickens, in A Christmas Carol. And historian Stephen Nissenbaum contends that the modern celebration in the United Sates was developed in New York State from defunct and imagined Dutch and English traditions in order to refocus the holiday on the happiness of children. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_controversy
Puritan ban on Christmas. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/the-fundamentalist-war-on-christmas/
Interesting as they are, these two stories don’t really help to explain the rise of contemporary Christmas gift exchanging.
The Puritan Era When England was ruled by a Puritan Parliament the Puritans sought to remove from Christianity elements they viewed as pagan, including the celebration of Christmas. And in Colonial America the Puritans of New England also disapproved of the celebration of Christmas. As a result, the holiday of Christmas was not widely celebrated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_controversy
Painting of St. Nicholas giving the gifts. http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/girolamo-macchietti-the-charity-of-st-nicholas-of-bari
The second is a story about 4th Century St. Nicholas of Bari. The legend tells of three poor sisters who could not marry because they had no money for a dowry. To save them from being sold by their father, St. Nicholas left each of the three sisters gifts of gold coins. One went down the chimney and landed in a pair of shoes that had been left on the hearth. Another went into a window and into a pair of stockings left hanging by the fire to dry. http://www.thehistoryofchristmas.com/trivia/gifts.htm
Image of Han Dynasty paper. http://ancientchinesedynasties.weebly.com/the-han-dynasty.html
Wrapping packages and giving gifts have probably been a part of human culture since the very beginning, but many people like to point to two events as significant in the development of Christmas gifts.
The first is the 2nd Century B.C. Chinese invention of paper. The use of wrapping paper is first documented in ancient China, where monetary gifts were wrapped with paper, forming an envelope, and were then distributed by the Chinese court to government officials. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gift_wrapping
In 1917 the Hall brothers (Hallmark) “invented” modern gift wrap. During the peak Christmas season, the Hall brothers ran out of solid-colored gift dressing that was popular for the day. They improvised by selling fancy decorated French envelope linings. These sold out so quickly that the brothers decided to begin printing their own gift wrap. http://corporate.hallmark.com/Company/Early-Innovation-1910s-30s
Scotch tape was invented in 1930 by banjo playing 3M engineer Richard Drew. Scotch tape was the world's first transparent adhesive tape, and that made it perfect for wrapping packages. http://inventors.about.com/od/sstartinventions/a/Scotch_Tape.htm
Typical Victorian style Christmas wrap with brown paper, string and sealing wax. http://www.gavethat.com/2011/12/regency-victorian-gift-wrap.html#.Uvwon0JdXGI
Gift-giving in the Victorian era was a deep sign of love and gifts usually took the entire calendar year to complete. The Victorians used colored paper to wrap gifts and used techniques such as paper marbling to make wrapping paper. They also presented and saved gifts in keepsake boxes crafted from paper mache and decorated with paints and various trinkets. The presentation of gifts was just as valued by the Victorians ads the actual gift itself. They sometimes crafted intricate cloth gift bags in which small gifts could be hung from trees. http://swellanddandy.blogspot.com/2009/12/victorian-christmas.html
The Regency era well into the Victorian saw very plainly wrapped gifts, if at all, done in brown papers, sealing wax and twine. Most gifts were not wrapped, with silver etched platters, toys, little potted plants such as African Violets and gift books laid as is under the tree. http://www.gavethat.com/2011/12/regency-victorian-gift-wrap.html#.Uvwon0JdXGI
Queen Victoria in her wedding dress. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wedding_of_Queen_Victoria_and_Prince_Albert.jpg
The Victorian Era of British history was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 until her death in 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_era