What Holiday Gift-Giving Traditions Say About Your Family
I’m not sure there is a more stress-provoking assignment than writing a blog about family and the holiday season. So much has been said of the topic and many of us scurry to the help-filled blogs, articles and e-news reports with the same vigor we have when searching for the perfect sweet potato-bake recipe. Some of us actually believe there is a person out there with the perfect magical recipe.
You know which recipe I mean: It’s the one where every family member is pleased with what they received, parents do not deplete their bank accounts or max their credit cards, and somehow the perfect balance is achieved where commercialism is “just enough” and the meaning of the season is maintained with the kids. You’ve never had the experience, have you? I haven’t. So my goal for this blog is to get you thinking about what your gift-giving traditions say about your family and which values you would like your traditions to reflect.
But first, let’s revisit how gift-giving became a tradition. In Christianity, St. Nicholas – the model for Santa Claus – was the bishop of Patara, in what is now Turkey, during the third century. He was a “secret giver.” During his most famous exploit, the saint dropped three bags of gold coins down a poor man’s chimney so he could afford his daughter’s dowry without the humiliation of begging. Supposedly, one of the bags landed in the daughter’s sock that was drying over the embers in the fireplace, which is why many of us hang stockings today. St. Nicholas’ example has inspired us to give on Christmas ever since. For some, gift giving is minimal, while others have helped build retail empires and expectations as large.
For Jewish-American families, ancient Hanukkah traditions have evolved with gift-giving taking on a much more prominent role after World War II. Traditionally, Jewish families celebrated the “Festival of Lights” by lighting the menorah for eight nights and cooking foods in oil to commemorate a long-ago miracle. They played dreidel games and customarily presented gelt, or chocolate coins, to their children – small tokens of affection. But as Christianity’s Christmas materialism exploded, so did the Jewish version, and today, many Jewish families exchange gifts on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
Kwanzaa began in the United States in the late 1960s to honor the seven traditions of African and African-American heritage. Toward the end of the seven-day celebration, children are given educational gifts like books, DVDs, games and something from African culture to remind them of their heritage. The gift exchange is meant to root the children more deeply with pride in their black culture.