2009-12-24 / Features

Holiday Gifting Across The Globe

Perhaps no one is a more familiar with gifting trends across the globe than the jolly man who lives at the North Pole. While you might not be able to fire up the sleigh and sail through the clouds this Christmas Eve, there are ways to mimic the gifting trends of countries far and wide.


Sending postcards, via snail mail, for special occasions may not be common in this e-mail centric world. But it is still common in the Netherlands. If putting it in writing is not your style, you can always offer a floral bouquet. Flowers are the typical offering when you are invited to someone’s home in the Netherlands, not surprising for a country famous for its tulips. The Dutch also exchange gifts on Sinterklaas, or Santa Claus Day, on December 5, which celebrates the actual feast day of Saint Nicholas for whom Santa Claus was named. On this day, people indulge in traditional Dutch cookies and candies, adults often make little presents or write poems for one another, and children receive a piece of chocolate in the shape of their first initial.

South Korea

During the fall harvest (which arrives in mid-August, depending on the lunar calendar), families gather to share a meal. At this celebration, adult children give money to their parents and, at day’s end, parents pack up the harvested crops for their children. Pretty presentation is another lesson to be learned from South Koreans. Everything in Korea is gift-wrapped and the packaging is important, so get out the bows and streamers, even if you decide to give Mom and Dad cash this year.


Using red wrapping paper and envelopes will delight those in China, who think the color brings good fortune and wards off evil. Traditionally, on the Chinese New Year, people exchange red envelopes filled with money.


Every December, Jews around the world celebrate Chanukah, the festival of lights or celebration of the Macabees’ victory over the Greeks, who wanted the Jews to give up their culture and faith in favor of a Hellenistic life in 166 B.C. After the Macabees won the war, they needed to rededicate their temple but only had enough oil for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days. As a result, Jews today light candles on the menorah for each of Hanukkah’s eight nights and often they exchange gifts. Originally, Jews gave monetary presents to teach children about sharing and in Israel that sentiment remains. Parents often give their children “gelt,” which are coin-shaped chocolates wrapped in gold foil. Potato latkes and jelly doughnuts are the holiday’s signature foods should you be invited to a Hanukkah celebration. The goal of the giver should be to provide a sweet thought as opposed to a fancy or expensive gift. Portugal

In Portugal, and in other parts of Europe, handmade gifts are often seen as the most sincere. Although Christmas is the most popular time of year to exchange gifts, most people bring homemade baked goods or knitted tablecloths, shawls or blankets whenever visiting someone’s home, says Portuguese American Helder Gil, 26, of Washington, D.C. Even celebrities have taken up Portuguese habits like knitting, proof that even old-fashioned hobbies can be chic.

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