Giving Gifts & The Wise Men

A Tradition-ful Advent:

Giving Gifts
& The Wise Men

A Little History:

The tradition of giving gifts is as old as time, we love to give gifts to those we love as a token of our appreciation for them.  However, when did it become associated with Christmas?  For Christians, the practice of giving gifts at Christmas is traced back to the three wisemen and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh that were given to the Christ child.  It also reminds us as in John 3:16 of God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.  Yet that still doesn’t answer why we give gifts to each other.  
The ancient Church did not “celebrate” Christmas as much as it “observed” Christmas as a holy day. The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time actually has some roots in Christmas begging.  During the holiday seasons, bands of young men would “wassail” from home to home and ask for handouts from the gentry. So observing the “holy day” involved an exchange between the social classes as Christians observed Jesus’ command to take care of the poor.  It wasn’t really until the modern era that the recipients of gift-giving between family and friends became a part of the celebration.   
In seventeenth century Germany, people  began giving gifts to friends and neighbors- they were rudimentarily wrapped and called “Christ bundles”.  These packages were stuffed with sugar plums, cakes, candy, apples and nuts.  Soon after, people began including  handmade gifts –  carved wooden toys and handmade pieces of needlework that were crafted during the agricultural off season to give to family members and neighbors.  
Around the late 1800s, many people began to purchase and give inexpensive, factory made trinkets. The Industrial Revolution saw the introduction of mass-manufactured trinkets and toys, but the homemade gifts were still the most treasured.  Removing the price tag of a store bought gift and wrapping it carefully in beautiful wrapping reduced some of the stigma of giving a store-bought gift, but not completely.  
By 1867, all that had changed.  Commercialism and modern invention had transformed gift giving with catalogs and wish lists for Santa. 
The Connection:

There are two very important thing to remember about giving gifts at Christmas time.  First is the thought. Even though our culture doesn’t value handmade gifts like it used to, it does still value the concept of being thoughtful and taking our time as we give gifts to one another.  The value of the gift is more than the price tag, it’s the meaning and heart behind it.  When the wise men came to visit Jesus as a young child and gave Him presents, their gifts had meaning too. 

  • Frankincense was a perfume used in Jewish worship and, as a gift, it showed that Jesus was worthy of worship.
  • Gold was associated with Kings and so they were honoring Jesus as the King of Kings.
  • Myrrh was a perfume that was put on  bodies after people died to make them smell nice and, as a gift, it showed that Jesus was filling prophesy as the lamb of God and would pay the sacrifice for our sins.

The second thing to remember is that while there is much history behind how we arrived at exchanging gifts on Christmas day, the main reason is this: when we do so we are emulating God. God deeply loves people, so He gave them His most precious gift—Jesus, His only Son. We love because God first loved us. We give to each other because God gave us the best gift of all. At Christmas we take the time and make the effort to acknowledge our love and care for one another. This is particularly true as it relates to the poor, the hungry, the oppressed and the sick. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” is Jesus’ reminder. We give to each other and especially to those who have less, because in doing so we are not only emulating God’s generosity, but we are giving back to Jesus, the birthday boy.

Verse(s) to Remember:

“The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with Hid mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave Him gold, incense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Ideas to Make it Stick:

  • Take a gift to someone in need. Orphan care, Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, local schools in low income areas, hospitals, etc. There are places everywhere you look! Make sure to include a homemade card to tell them the greatest gift “God loves you!”
  • Organize a neighborhood gift drive
  • Make a “Christ bundle” of fruit and treats to eat and give to a neighbor or friend,. If you’re feeling really festive, wrap it in a Christmas towel and tie with twine, then leave on a neighbors doorstep as an anonymous gift with a note to explain the “Christ bundle”.

Please feel free to share with friends and leave comments…  Do you have other connections between the tradition and the heart of the holiday?  Creative ideas to make it stick?  I’d love to know what you and your family do with this!

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