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A person holding a wrapped gift in front of a Christmas tree.

Holiday Gift Giving Traditions Around the World

December is a month in which everyone all over the world is feeling the spirit of giving. Whether it’s a religious holiday or simply a time to share appreciation, this is a time for gift giving traditions. In America, we eagerly set out milk and cookies for Santa when he brings us presents on December 25. In the morning, kids are overjoyed at a room full of toys, while the parents get new socks. But traditional Christmas gifts and customs around the world are quite different from what we know and love. Here are just a few traditions! 


In China, gift giving traditions involve much etiquette and presentation. Out of respect, the recipient should always refuse the gift two or three times to appear humble and not greedy, and the gift-giver should insist upon giving the gift until it is accepted. The gift should also be given with two hands as a sign of respect. The color of the wrapping paper has its own meaning as well. For example, red paper wishes good luck for the recipient, gold will bring good fortune, and yellow bids for happiness. China’s younger generation has taken to giving lavishly wrapped apples as a symbol of peace and good fortune.


Mexicans begin the traditions of gift giving earlier than most with the celebration of the Day of the Dead on November first and second. They honor and remember family members that have passed by offering sugar skulls, tequila, marigolds, and other goodies. They leave these on graves or on altars they have created with family photos. As the season progresses, families indulge in feasts and those attending bring gifts for the host’s children.


Indian gift giving traditions are very specific in the way a gift should be exchanged. Since the left hand is thought to be unclean, it should not be used to give gifts, eat with, or shake hands. The traditional gift in India is money. Since odd numbers are considered good luck, monetary gifts should always be odd values, like $51 instead of $50.


Italy is mainly Christian, and the Christmas celebrations start in early December. The festivities and feasts are celebrated all month long. In the nine days leading up to Christmas, the journey of the shepherds to the manger is remembered. Children often dress up as shepherds and go house to house singing Christmas songs or reciting poems in exchange for sweet treats or money. La Befana is the main symbol of Christmas in Italy. The story depicts her as an old, kind witch who was invited by the three wise men to visit baby Jesus. She was too busy but was regretful when she realized it was the Son of God. From then on, she traveled all around the world leaving traditional Christmas gifts for good children.


Iceland celebrates Christmas as well, and they have 13 days of it. On each night of the Christmas celebrations, children leave their shoes by a window and wait to be visited by the 13 Yule Lads. If they’ve been good, they’ll find candy and treats, but if they’ve been bad they’ll find rotten potatoes. Iceland also enjoys gift giving traditions of books. Before Christmas, a catalog of all of Iceland’s recently published books is distributed for citizens to pick out gifts for loved ones. On Christmas day, they enjoy a good read. 


In Thailand, pricey and expensive gifts are of no need. The gift giving traditions focus on inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts so the recipient doesn’t feel uncomfortable. One should not tear wrapping paper off hastily, but unwrap the paper with care and set it aside. The number three is considered to be good luck in Thailand, so giving gifts in groups of three is always appreciated.


People wandering a market in Germany at Christmas time

Germans love the use of the Advent calendar during the holiday season. Each day of December leading up to Christmas is a day to receive a gift like toys, chocolate, or even alcoholic beverages. In the German gift giving traditions, a young blonde girl named Christkind, which translates to ‘Christ Child’, is responsible for delivering gifts to children on Christmas. 

Traditional Christmas and holiday gifts around the world may differ from our own traditions, but the meaning is the same. We give gifts to those we love to let them know they are appreciated. This season, give gifts with extra thought that are personalized from mymento for those who mean the most to you!

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