Ill break it down for you. From what I understand and what research I have done, it all boils down to religion. What the history of Christmas is really just depends on what country you are from and what religion you practice. There are literally hundreds of varying stories on why we celebrate Christmas and why we give people gifts during this time. Some say it is to replica the Three Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some say it has more to do with giving gifts to celebrate the end of a fruitful year, and then there are those that say that we do it because of a guy named Bishop Nicholas who had a love of children and anonymously dropped coins down peasants chimneys and they just happened to land in stockings that were hung to dry by the fire.
(Disclaimer...In NO way am I trying to diminish any ones beliefs on this matter, or insult any ones faith, please read objectively.)
Ok, so lets just say for the sake of argument that we take religion completely out of the equation of Christmas. Then what? I myself am an atheist, and therefore really have no actual reason for celebrating it other than society and tradition tells me I should. And for the record, I love Christmas. Which either makes or destroys my point and I am not entirely sure whether its the former or latter. Anywho, back to the point. So here we are, we have a holiday where we have removed all religion from. This means that whatever reason you were taught as to why to give gifts has been erased. No tradition, no folklore and no ancestors to look back on. So do we still give gifts ? And if so, why?
Selfish vs. Selfless
Selfish: devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
Selfless: having little concern for one's own interests.
In my opinion neither of these are particularly good definitions. I think most people want to focus on their interests, benefits and welfare and that's not such a bad thing. On the other hand, having little concern for your own interests may be "selfless", but its pretty damn foolish too. Is there a definition for a nice healthy balance between the two? I actually used to think they meant the same thing. In order to be selfless you had to be selfish, there is no truly selfless act because at the very least you are gaining something for doing good for someone else. There is a whole Friends episode about this. Its pretty hilarious. Pheobe keeps trying to convince Joey that she accomplishes selfless acts all the time, while he tries to convince her that its not selfless because she is gaining positive feelings from doing these acts, therefore doing them to feel good about herself. I don't think they ever get to the bottom of it. I mean technically Joey is right, but I was never one for the technicalities ;)
So back to giving gifts because you want to, not because you have to. Are you gaining anything by giving something they need or want for no reason? Are you doing it to make you feel good, to have people think "wow, he's so thoughtful and such a nice person"? Can you honestly say its only for the sake of making another person feel good? Truthfully, for me its a little of both.
I no longer think that selfish and selfless are the same thing, but I also think that most people, like me, operate in the middle. I don't believe there are just selfless people just like I don't believe there are just selfish people. It is certainly not that simple.
If the Christmas gift giving tradition had been left up to people minus religion, I believe the practice would still exist today. I think people enjoy giving, because it makes everyone involved feel good. It wouldnt matter that some wise men had done it years before, or if crops had done particularly well that year, or even if a particularly crafty guy with good aim rewarded children for not being naughty. I think humans would prevail.