Historically, Christmas gift giving became part of many Christmas traditions all over the world to honor the three wise men that brought gifts to the baby Jesus. The bible records "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.. .On Coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh ".
Even though the roots of the Christmas present extend to ancient times, the gift giving tradition we are familiar with today owes perhaps the most to Victorian England. The Victorians, who brought a renewed warmth and spirit to Christmas after it had experienced a long period of decline, made the idea of family part of the celebration. Friendliness and charity filled many hearts during their Christmas season, so giving gifts was natural. The ultimate reason for giving a gift was as an expression of kindness, a sentiment that went nicely with the historical tradition of the holiday.
The Victorians surrounded the act of gift giving with a great deal of ingenuity and merriment: simply tearing into a cache of wrapped boxes would have been to miss the point. Far more thought and preparation than that were in order during the holiday season. They had cobweb parties, which was a lot of messy fun. Each family member was assigned a color, then shown to a room crisscrossed with yarn of various colors. Each person was to follow an assigned color through the web of yarn until he or she reached the present tied to the end.
The Christmas pie was another favorite diversion, although it was not exactly edible. Small gifts were hidden in a large bowl of grain. After everyone had eaten Christmas dinner, they would gather around the pie and they took turns taking a spoonful. Whatever treat was in their spoonful was theirs to keep.
The American Christmas was greatly influenced by the Victorians, gift giving, tradition and all. America expanded on the concept with the addition of Santa Clause: the association with gifts was a natural one. Soon Santa or one of his earlier models became responsible for the presents left in an ever-increasing number of stockings.