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We often think that things have always been as they are now but often festivals and events are recent constructs and Xmas in no exception.

Gift giving was an important part of the pagan winter solstice celebrations. The Romans also gave presents  as part of their December festival of Saturn. As Neil McGregor found in his radio series Living with the gods “we don’t know when Christ was born and it is unlikely that is was 25th December”. However, christianity adopted this date  and absorbed the gift ritual into its customs linking it with the Magi’s gifts to the baby Jesus. In the early 1900’s retailers in the USA targeted children to entice parents to spend over Xmas. A century later US shoppers spent $4billion on gifts.

In a 2016 European survey, 25% of respondents re-gifted one of their presents, 14% sold one, 10% returned something to the shop and 5% gave something back. Older respondents were more likely to donate unwanted gifts to charity whilst younger ones simply threw them away.

Although Father Christmas has a long history starting in Tudor times, Santa Claus was conceived in New York in the mid 1800s based on the Dutch St Nicholas [N Y had been a dutch colony]. His clothes throughout the 18th and 19th century were sometimes red, brown, green, blue and white. The  red tradition was not fully established until a 1931 Coca Cola advertisement.

Then Xmas trees come via Queen Victoria whose husband `Prince Albert  introduced the old German custom of bringing a live tree into the home as a symbol of continuing life in the dead of winter.

Carols are borrowed from the Wassailers’ pre christian mid winter fertility rituals. Their noisy festivals involved lots of drinking and door to door singing to solicit gifts from the households.

The first Xmas card was sent in 1843 when John Calcott Horsley printed a scene of festive giving for Sir Henry Cole a British business man who sent them to his colleagues and friends. 1000 copies of the same design were sold in Felix Summerly’s Treasure House in Bond Street in 1846 for one shilling.

Rudolf the red nosed reindeer was popularised following a Gene Autry hit song of 1939, based on an earlier poem written by Robert L May who created the ninth reindeer.

The cosy notion of a white Christmas also has a popular culture foundation. It comes from Bing Crosby’s 1942 film “Holiday Inn” conceived to remind US troops of the comforts of home at Xmas. 

This was one of the first Christmas movies alongside Judy Garland’s 1944 “Meet me in St Lewis. In 1946 the Jame Stewart film “A Wonderful Life was released, this has gone on to become the most popular Xmas movie.