Gifts: Santa Claus, Christmas Trees, and Gifts
The custom of exchanging Christmas gifts among friends and family became widespread during the nineteenth century. In this same era Europeans and Americans began to adopt the German Christmas tree. At the same time Santa Claus became a popular mythological figure associated with Christmas in the United States. Both of these innovations encouraged the growth of Christmas gift giving—the tree by providing a beautiful location to display the gifts, and Santa Claus by serving as a new Christmas gift bringer. Unlike the medieval New Year’s gift, or the English Christmas box, the nineteenth-century Christmas gift circulated between family and friends and expressed the affection of the sender.
Although charity had for centuries been a theme of Christmas celebrations, it became increasingly important in the nineteenth century. Charitable gifts linked Christmas gift giving with the spiritual celebration of the holiday. Finally, in the twentieth century many American companies adopted the custom of distributing Christmas bonuses to their workers at Christmas time. Reminiscent of the English Christmas box, these gifts of cash rewarded employees for their hard work in the past year.