The history of Christmas Gifts

Originally, Christmas gifts were small presents that the Romans exchanged when celebrating the winter solstice. This tradition was transferred to Christianity, coinciding with the Roman festival of lights. Instead of exchanging small gifts during the dark season, people began giving small gifts to the little Jesus child in the church, as he was the one whose birthday they were celebrating.

This practice evolved gradually over the early Middle Ages. Employees on estates and large farms received some confectionery and perhaps gingerbread around Christmas time, not only to celebrate Christmas but also to demonstrate a little generosity.

Later in the Middle Ages, it became customary for princes and other nobles' children to receive actual gifts for Christmas. This custom spread over the last part of the 18th century and, especially in the early 19th century, to the children of the upper middle class.

In Denmark, as early as 1817, records detail what the poet Adam Oehlenschläger gave his children. It was very gender-specific, with a sugar basket for the daughter and war toys for the boys. Back then, Christmas gifts hung on the tree without being wrapped. However, they could only be taken off the tree after walking around it and singing Christmas carols and songs.

That's why, in the Christmas carol "Højt fra Træets Grønne Top" (Up High from the Green Top of the Tree), the children can see what gifts they are getting. Listen to the song via this link and see the text in Danish and English below. This entire Christmas classic is essentially a list of Christmas gifts over several verses. We go through all the children in the family, as well as mom and grandma, before the song is over. The song has stuck, unlike the practice of hanging Christmas gifts on the Christmas tree.

It wasn't until the 1900s that the custom of Christmas gifts spread to the average Dane. However, the gifts were not as elaborate or as numerous. Most often, each child – and perhaps also the adults – received a small, simple, and often homemade Christmas gift.

Around the turn of the previous century, it became customary to wrap the gifts, perhaps to make it a bit more festive to receive the parents' handcrafted items.

With the increasing prosperity after the end of World War II, Christmas gifts also grew in size and number. This development occurred gradually throughout the 1950s and 1960s and had already evolved into a kind of consumer festival by the 1970s.

This trend continued through the last decades of the 1900s and up to today, where the number of Christmas gifts, especially for children, is almost exploding. Compared to before, toys are practically inexpensive. Therefore, many very young children never manage to finish unwrapping gifts on Christmas Eve; they simply become too tired and exhausted!


In collaboration with Skagen, Georg Jensen & Lego


HØJT FOR TRÆETS GRØNNE TOP

Højt fra træets grønne top
stråler juleglansen
spillemand, spil lystigt op
nu begynder dansen.


Læg nu smukt din hånd i min
ikke rør’ ved den rosin!
Først skal træet vises
siden skal det spises.

 

Se, børnlil’, nu går det godt
I forstår at trave,
lad den lille Signe blot
få sin julegave.


Løs kun selv det røde bånd!
Hvor du ryster på din hånd
Når du strammer garnet,
kvæler du jo barnet!

 

Peter har den gren så kær,
hvorpå trommen hænger
hver gang han den kommer nær
vil han ikke længere.


Hvad du ønsker, skal du få
når jeg blot tør stole på
at du ej vil tromme
før min sang er omme.

 

Denne fane ny og god
giver jeg til Henrik.
Du er stærk og du har mod
du skal være fændrik.


Hvor han svinger fanen kækt
Børn, I skylder ham respekt
vid, det er en ære,
Dannebrog at bære.

 

O, hvor er den blød og rar
sikken dejlig hue!
Den skal sikre bedstefar
imod frost og snue.


Lotte, hun kan være stolt
tænk jer, hun har garnet holdt!
Det kan Hanne ikke,
hun kan bare strikke.

 

Børn, nu er jeg blevet træt
og I får ej mere.
Moder er i køkkenet,
nu skal hun traktere.


Derfor får hun denne pung,
løft engang, hvor den er tung!
Julen varer længe,
koster mange penge.

 

UP HIGH FROM THE GREEN TOP OF THE TREE

Up high from the green top of the tree,
the Christmas radiance shines,
fiddler, play merrily,
now the dance begins.


Place your hand beautifully in mine,
don't touch the raisin!
First, the tree must be shown,
then it must be eaten.

 

See, children, now it's going well,
you know how to march,
let little Signe just
receive her Christmas present.


Loosen the red ribbon yourself!
How you shake your hand
When you tighten the yarn,
you're choking the child!

 

Peter loves the branch so dear,
where the drum is hanging,
every time he comes near
he no longer wants it.


What you wish for, you shall have,
if only I dare trust
that you won't drum
before my song is done.

 

This flag, new and good,
I give to Henrik.
You are strong and brave,
you shall be the ensign.


How he swings the flag boldly,
children, you owe him respect,
know, it is an honor,
to bear the Dannebrog.

 

Oh, how soft and nice it is,
such a lovely hat!
It shall protect Grandpa best
against frost and sniffles.


Lotte, she can be proud,
imagine, she held the yarn!
Hanne can't do that,
she can only knit.

 

Children, now I've grown tired,
and you shall have no more.
Mother is in the kitchen,
now she shall treat.


Therefore, she gets this purse,
lift it once, how heavy it is!
Christmas lasts a long time,
costs a lot of money.