Christmas Traditions from Saturnalia to Green Santa Clause
As the Christmas season approaches, our thoughts inevitably turn to the issue of Christmas presents. Some of us will leave Christmas shopping until a fraught last minute dash, while others will execute this task with a military-like precision week, if not months before. The Christmas Gift traditions are now deeply entrenched in our psychology, but was it always thus? We have taken a quick look at this aspect of Christmas traditions to see how our ancestors handled the gift-giving season.
From Saturnalia to Santa Claus
The Romans celebrated an end-of-year feast, called Saturnalia, which was a riot of drinking and merry making, coupled with a world-turned-upside-down theme – masters waited on servants and the rigid order of Roman society was turned into anarchy. Small gifts, such as combs, dice, writing tablets and toothpicks, were exchanged during this period, mainly between men. With the advent of Christianity, the custom of gift-giving on New Year’s Day was retained, but was seen rather as a tribute to the gifts brought by the Magi of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
In the Middle Ages the New Year gift-giving tradition became an opportunity to seek favour and flatter the powerful – monarchs received a rich gifts of gold and silver trinkets from grateful, and ambitious, subjects. Ordinary people, meanwhile, restricted their presents to items such as oranges and cloves, which were considered extremely exotic offerings. Traditionally, the 6th December was a celebration of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, and this was a time for indulging and gift giving. Over time however, Saint Nicholas, known to the Dutch as Sinterklaas, became Santa Claus, and his gift giving day was moved to Christmas Eve.
It was the Victorians who turned Christmas, which was traditionally a time of wassailing and carousing, into a family friendly festival, with the focus on a domestic gathering on Christmas Day and the exchange of family presents. Initially, gifts were modest, no more than small trinkets, fruit, nuts and sweets that hung from the newly introduced Christmas tree, a custom brought to England by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert. As the century progressed, presents became slightly more elaborate, and a great premium was placed on hand-crafted gifts and embellishments, which often showcased ladies’ needle-working skills.
By the end of the century some recognisable Christmas presents for gentlemen were emerging. In 1888 a correspondent in Good Housekeeping lamented: ‘I know how hard it is to think of something to give the ‘men folks’. I know how many sights have been breathed over the perplexity and hopelessness of it…’ Suggestions for gentlemen’s gifts in Victorian ladies’ journals included scarves, smoking caps, sleeping caps, tobacco pouches and handkerchiefs. Shaving soaps and accessories became also very popular, and remain so to this day (see below), while more elaborate presents included hand crafted, ornamental combs, hairbrushes and other grooming accessories.
Truly Traditional Gift Suggestions
This year, we have followed the lead of the Victorians, the inventors of modern Christmas, and compiled a wonderful list of some traditional gifts, which are guaranteed to please:
These gifts should be made with care, so we suggest a Truefitt & Hill Special Gift set, which contains Aftershave Balm, Shaving Cream bowl and a Shaving Brush. He will be reminded of your generosity every time he wields the shaving brush in the morning, and, with a choice of six of Truefitt & Hill’s classic fragrance lines – Trafalgar, Apsley, 1805, Grafton, Sandalwood and West Indian Limes, you will be able to tailor the gifts to your husband’s, and your own, taste!
If you feel that he is already well-equipped for shaving, why not give him a Truefitt & Hill Gentleman’s Washbag? Fully lined and expandable, it will allow easy access to shaving and grooming essentials, and will last a lifetime.
Treat your father to a brand new Truefitt & Hill Wellington Shaving brush, carefully hand crafted for a superior quality. You could pair it with one of Truefitt & Hill’s Luxury Shaving soaps in a wooden bowl – as he lathers up his brush he will enter a pleasantly ruminative state each morning, and thank you for your indulgent gift.For Grandfathers
Take your grandfather on a trip down memory lane, with some traditional gifts from Truefitt & Hill as he will most certainly appreciate them! A Triple Soap pack or the masculine Apsley Bath Soap, will no doubt bring a feeling of nostalgia and take him back to the days when cream washes had not yet been used. Other gifts, bound to please are our Luxury Shaving soaps in a wooden Bowl, or the delicately scented Apsley or Sandalwood shaving soaps. Or perhaps an Ox Horn Comb, or a Burlington Handmade Hair Brush are other wonderful choices, your grandfather would enjoy?
And remember, you can always give the important men in your life the indulgent gift of an unforgettable grooming experience as they will be guaranteed to enjoy a range of treatments at the hands of Truefitt & Hill’s Master Barbers: from a Hot Towel wet shave or a Haircut, shampoo and scalp massage to the full Ultimate Grooming Experience – a luxurious 90 minute service that combines a traditional wet shave with a facial treatment and manicure
Finally, do take time to plan and shop – a last minute shopping expedition will leave you frustrated and frazzled! Not a great way to ease into a festive spirit this season!