The giving of gifts at Christmas probably originated with St Nicholas, who actually lived in the 4th century AD and was the Patron Saint of children and travellers by sea; known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre. He was a kind and generous man who gave gifts of money and assistance in times of need.
The giving of gifts used to be carried out on 6th December in memory of the Saint, for on his feast day people gained the habit of being particularly nice to children and placing small gifts in their shoes to be found in the morning. We no longer celebrate St Nicholas’ day on December 6th because in the Middle Ages the event fell into disrepute due to some people ignoring the reverence of the day and using it as an excuse for riotous behaviour (nothing ever changes, does it?) It became little more than a farce so during the reign of Henry VIII he put an end to it (in between beheading his wives.) The children of course were upset at being deprived of their day, so gradually the habit of giving presents on Christmas Day was adopted instead.
So, while you are ripping open your presents this Christmas, spare a thought for good old St Nicholas.
Merry Christmas, one and all!