November 24, 2023
As the holidays approach, it's time to start scratching our heads about what to gift our nearest and dearest. Easier said than done. Perhaps we can seek inspiration from other lands where the act of giving doesn’t foster as much stress over the festive season. In the Mediterranean lands, many of the presents which are gifted to loved ones are steeped in age-old tradition which values the gesture more than the object itself. It is worth exploring these values to realign the priorities over such a climactic season. Alternatively, if you want some further gift ideas that hark from southern Europe, here are some suggestions of stocking stuffers which will leave your recipients asking Santa for the next plane ticket to the Med!
In Italy, the focus of Christmas is concentrated on one of the main pillars of the country’s core values – togetherness. Rather than piling multitudes of presents under the Christmas tree, Italian families will gather around the table and enjoy good food, wine and quality time. Nonetheless, an exchange of gifts still plays a part and usually takes place on 25th December after the Christmas feast. A particularly beautiful tradition involves children writing letters of love to their parents which they wrap up like presents. These are then read around a table which is scattered with the remnants of a good meal, a bottle of digestivo and Christmas sweets baked at home in the days leading up to the festivities. After the 25th, the celebrations don’t end. On January 5th, the eve of the Epiphany, there is the Befana. Legend has it that an old lady zooms down the chimneys across the land and she fills stockings or boots with gifts. If a child has been naughty, their only present will be a lump of coal!
Another important part of Christmas traditions in Italy is the Nativity Scene (presepe). Across the country, churches and piazzas will set up larger-than-life scenes of the birth of Baby Jesus. However, inside the home, small models are also set up throughout December and January. The figurines who make up the scene are often passed down through generations and embody an important part of Italian Christmas culture.
Gift ideas from Italy for your loved ones:
Moka Coffee Maker
Murano Glass Ornament
Rather than exchanging gifts on 24th or 25th December, in Greek culture, it falls on New Years Day (St Basil’s Day in Greece). Gifts can vary and there are no set rules to what you should gift but there are for what you shouldn’t! Knives, scissors or any sharp objects are not a favourable present as they are considered to bring bad luck to the recipient. Other imperative guidelines include not presenting the gift unwrapped and not spending excessive amounts of money which might cause embarrassment in the reciprocation!
Whilst presents are only exchanged at the beginning of the new year, Christmas traditions start well before then. During the Christmas season, the amount of sugar consumption across Greece and its islands spikes dramatically – baklava, rizogalo, vasilopita, melomakarona, kourabiedes, and christopsomo are just some of the sweet treats which fill households with sweet aromas over December and January.
Gift ideas from Greece for your loved ones:
Evil Eye Charm
Olive oil soaps or toiletries
Komboloi (Worry beads)
Whilst in many Mediterranean cultures, the exchange of gifts is reserved for just the most intimate relationships, in Spain it is far wider ranging! Many companies dedicate a large portion of their budget to a ‘cesta di navidad’ (a Christmas Basket) which is bestowed upon employees over the holidays. Back in the home, studies showed that 58% of people in Spain receive Christmas gifts that have a practical use with just 30% receiving ones of a recreational function. Spanish children who still hope for the latter-themed gift, wouldn’t receive any from Father Christmas. In Spain, it is traditionally the Three Kings who deliver presents to the little ones.
Beyond the workplace and the family home, there is one more nationwide gift that the whole country gets involved with. Every year around Christmas, the ‘El Gordo’ lottery takes place. Begun in 1812 by the government to raise money for Spanish troops, the tradition has remained over the last 200 years. Civilians from north to south enter the lottery by purchasing tickets – one full ticket costs €200 – and the numbers are drawn on 22nd December. A few lucky winners will be getting one big gift at Christmas!
Gift ideas from Spain for your loved ones:
In France, the festive spirit is seen before it is felt. From the end of November, sparkling lights, opulent decorations and Christmas markets begin to adorn the towns and cities across the country. At home, Christmas trees are the crowning glory of the household and are often bedecked with edible delights as well as ornaments and lights. This exuberant display is paired with a strong tradition of gift-giving. Following the postwar years, the commercial promotion of the Christmas period skyrocketed in France. Shops began to fill their windows with visual delights in order to seduce shoppers during the mareé shopping de Noël (the tidal wave of Christmas shopping). Indeed, strolling down the commercial districts of France’s larger cities in the winter months, is a festive sight to behold. Since the focus of the holiday season is largely on children and the joy they derive, the sights, smells, and tastes are all centred around their interests. For the adults, wine and champagne awaits…
Gift ideas from France for your loved ones:
Raclette or Fondue maker
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Words by Antonia Fest