Many people can tell you that the tradition of the Christmas tree gained popularity in the nineteenth century, but when I stopped looking for Christmas stories in November and December's issues of Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book, I started finding interesting items about Christmas.
One of the prettiest superstitions I know, is that of children in Germany, and the whole north of Europe on Christmas-day. They are then taught to believe that our Saviour, on the anniversary of his birth, travels all over the world to visit children that love him and their parents, to bestow upon them some token of his affection. 'Blessed are the little ones,' he said; and there is not a little heart in Germany which does not, on that day, feel the truth of it in its own childish manners. From Whitsunday to Christmas the days are counted with great care, and as the nights grow longer, the approach of the holidays becomes the subject of children's conversation. At last snow begins to cover the ground, and it is now certain that the great day is near at hand. The eve preceding the festival every child is on its best behavior, in breathless expectation of the great event, and the favors that are to be shown it by Him who loved 'the little ones.' Towards dark the family are all united at the thanksgiving dinner--the tapers burn with more than usual lustre...After dinner the children, young and old--though the latter may be let into the secret, after having pledged themselves to keep it religiously--are conducted into a darkened room where they are left long enough to think and guess at the gifts which await them. At last the door opens, and father and mother announce 'that the little infant Jesus has paid them a visit, and left them tokens of His love.' They are then conducted into another room, where the Christmas tree is dressed for their reception. It is a large evergreen with many branches, fantastically lit up with tapers and lamps, with its branches gilt or silvered over, as in the fairy tales, and suspended from them are the beautiful presents, all inscribed with the names of the donees.
"Christmas and New Year in France and Germany," Francis J. Grund. Godeys' Magazine and Lady's Book. January 1848; 36 p 6-7.
Interesting that early on Jesus was the gift bringer. Santa Claus was known at this time, in America from as early as 1773, although he became more of the guy we know (sleigh, fat and jolly) in the nineteenth century. Although I wonder...I know some people don't believe in "lying" to their children about where gifts come from, how much worse for parents to put out presents on behalf of Jesus instead of Santa?
In a week or so, I'll have more interesting things about gift giving during the holiday period--and yes, I've chosen those words carefully.