Friday, December 08, 2006

Now Appearing On Lists Everywhere

So this is the time of year that quantity takes precedence over quality. Or so it seems. For several years Eighth Spouse has taken it upon himself to maintain the compilation of everybody's wants. You know, as in Jaxon wants a pair of skates, Sarah wants a pony. Jake-ster wants his own game show, Katie wants a Tony.. The list is maintained very diligently, but yesterday Seventh commented on the increasing appearance of "gift card" on the list.

At first, gift cards seemed like a terrific idea. That was back in the day when you actually had to go to the store of choice in order to purchase the gift card. It said "I know you would love something from here, but I just can't decide what." Gift cards were more personal than cash. They involved some thought and effort. But as they tend to do, times have changed.

Now, you can stock up on gift cards from anywhere right along with your weekly grocery shopping. Looking at the growing log of gimmes:

  • Target gift card
  • GameStop gift card
  • Borders gift card
  • Lowe's gift card
and so's hard not to feel disappointed. Is this all you think of a provider of gift cards? Conflicted between the sheer surprise of "what will I get" and the satisfaction of getting "what I want", we opt for the sure thing.

It's like Christmas, dumbed-down.

Use the gift card from the office to buy a pre-decorated, boxed tree and a boxed holiday feast from the chain grocery, invite your friends over and get more gift cards.

To tell you the truth, the last thing I want to do after Christmas is set foot in another store. "If I get a gift card, I don't use it on myself anyway" said Eighth referring to the ultimate in re-gifting. By the time you use it, do you even remember who it's from?

So, this is Christmas, sings Paul

This post started out to be a rant about Christmas and giving until I took a look at the history of holiday gifting. Christmas, it turns out,is one of the most plastic (ha, a little pun) of all festivals. No one has taken a sacred, religious holiday and corrupted it with commercialism. The leaders of the Christian world themselves intentionally morphed Christmas into something that could accommodate pagans and all others.

The custom of giving gifts at Christmas goes back to two Roman festivals, Saturnalia and Kalends, which were sacred to Saturn and Janus respectively. December 25, which is three days after the shortest day of the year, celebrates the Return of the Sun. The very first gifts were simple items such as twigs from a sacred grove (as good luck emblems), figs, honey, and pastry. Soon that escalated to small items of jewellery, candles, and statues of various gods.

Hear that? The gift-giving, the eating and drinking and entertainment, were already in place.

At first, the early Christian Church saw gift giving at the winter solstice as a residue of paganism and, therefore, severely frowned upon it. The people, however, would not part with the tradition, so the church exercised its old strategy of absorbing the practice. The Council of Tours, in 567 AD, declared that the twelve days between the Nativity and the Epiphany formed one, festal cycle. Since every country had some sort of solstice celebration, this made sure the church could capitalize on a piece of whatever festival the people were celebrating.

Throughout the English medieval and early modern period, the traditional day for the exchange of gifts was January 1st -- known as New Year’s Day. The giving of ‘boxes’ at the solstice season is first recorded in the 17th Century, when it had become the custom to give cash gifts -- euphemistically known as ‘boxes’ -- to tradesmen whose services a customer valued during the year. In other words, the percursor of the gift card! This practice eventually became fixed as ‘Boxing Day’, the 26th of December or St. Stephen’s Day, during the reign of Queen Victoria.

So,in summary,it was not the godless who corrupted a serious religious commemoration with a lot of fol-de-rol. The religious right of the 6th century elbowed in on the good times of Saturnalia, exercised a little wordplay, and made it all about them.

Since everyone was off work anyway, they might as well spend the time in church, eh?

Interested in more? Go here.

Let's dumb it all down.


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