Every December more than two billion people in more than 160 countries celebrate Christmas making it the most important holiday of the year. It is a time for many to indulge themselves and deal with the consequences after Christmas.
The average spend on presents in the UK will be $743, almost 40 per cent more than consumers in Europe. Online purchases in the UK will make up almost half of all presents purchased. Americans will spend on average $942 on Christmas gifts and in total will spend close to $1 trillion. Seems a lot but less than the $1.2trn growth in the wealth of the top 500 richest people in 2019.
A survey for Netherlands-based bank ING found 15pc of Europeans were unhappy with the gifts they received last year, while 10pc couldn’t even remember what gifts they received. Although half kept unwanted gifts, a quarter re-gifted them to someone else, 14pc sold them and one in 10 took them back to a store. In addition, 5pc gave unwanted gifts back to the giver, a habit most popular with the British and the Dutch.
A mid-winter celebration and ‘burn out’ goes way back in time to the Winter Solstice, one of the oldest celebrations in the world. Way back in time Northern Europeans viewed the sun as a wheel that changed the seasons. It is from the word houl that evolved into the word yule. And in mid-winter they lit bonfires, told stories and drank sweet ale.
The Romans held a mid-winter celebration called Saturnalia in honour of the agricultural god Saturn. It was the most popular festival in the Roman year. It started out as a one-day festival and through time expanded into a week-long festivity beginning on the 17th of December.
During Saturnalia all work came to a halt and schools closed. Homes were decorated with wreaths and other greenery and everyday attire was replaced with colourful seasonal clothes. Celebrations included singing, playing music, feasting, gifting and socialising.
Many of the traditions in the past have been retained and are a part of present-day festivities. In Roman times some households allowed servants to sit at the head of the table and be served by their masters. Today in the British military on the 26th of December there is a tradition whereby the officers serve a festive dinner to the other ranks.
Today we have Christmas trees in the home along with mistletoe and other greenery. This was the case in Northern Europe all those centuries ago when Celtic priests cut mistletoe from sacred oak trees. Back then the mistletoe was a symbol of life during long and dark winters.
Finally, one tradition seems to have survived since Roman times and is popularised in the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It follows the Grinch, a grumpy, solitary creature who attempts to put an end to Christmas by stealing presents from homes on Christmas Eve. Back in Roman times the author Gaius Pliny built a soundproof room so that he could keep out the celebration noise whilst he continued to work.
Seems we have always loved a celebration in the middle of a long winter.
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org