Some people say the tradition of giving presents at Christmas goes back to the story of the Three Wise Men giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Wherever the tradition originated, during the Middle Ages it became common to give money at Yuletide. Land owners would present hardworking and loyal staff with a Christmas ‘Box’ and the tradition led to the name ‘Boxing Day’. Even today people often give tradespeople a special gift for their hard work during the year.
The Christmas sixpence
Another Christmas tradition is believed to have been brought over to Britain by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. On the Sunday before Advent, families gathered in the kitchen to help make the Christmas pudding.
A silver sixpence was placed into the pudding mix and every member of the household gave the mix a stir. Whoever found the sixpence in their own piece of the pudding on Christmas Day would see it as a sign that they would enjoy wealth and good luck in the year to come.
Traditional Christmas Stocking
The traditional Christmas stocking also began with coins and also with St Nicholas, the fourth-century Greek saint.
Nicholas liked giving presents to people who were less fortunate than him. He preferred to give gifts anonymously. He heard a story about a local nobleman who had lost both his wife and his money. The nobleman had been forced to move into a peasant’s cottage with his three daughters, all of whom were of marriageable age.
At the time, a bride-to-be needed a dowry to offer her groom’s parents. Sadly, the nobleman couldn’t afford to feed his daughters, let alone give them a dowry. St Nicholas knew that the nobleman would be too proud to accept charity. So when he spotted that the girls had hung their stockings to dry on the chimney ledge, he decided to climb down the chimney and put a bag of silver coins into the oldest girl’s stocking.
The next day, St Nicholas climbed down the chimney again and placed a bag of coins into the second daughter’s stocking. The day after that, St Nicholas tried to do the same for the youngest daughter but the nobleman was hiding in the room and caught St Nicholas in the act.
St Nicholas begged the nobleman to keep it a secret but word got out and soon everyone was hanging stockings on their fireplace.