Gift giving: The early years | Kitsap Week

By Ron Corcoran
Editor’s note: This is part one of a four-part series by local writer Ron Corcoran.

It is unlikely that you are familiar with the 3rd century Turkish man who became history’s first “annual gift-giver.” Yes, the heritage of today’s Santa Claus has been an untold story — until now — and, as you are about to discover, it is one with a few surprises.

By reading this story, you will learn how several of today’s Christmas traditions began — and why.

So, here we go …The story of annual gift-giving begins more than 1,700 years ago in the old city of Myra in the country of Turkey.

Have you ever heard of the city of Myra? Probably not. It doesn’t exist as a city anymore. However, that old city does have a unique linkage to our present day Christmas celebrations and pageantry.

Historical records of that era indicate that rock relics discovered about 2,200 years ago in the City of Myra were found to exude a clear, watery liquid with a fragrance similar to that of rosewater. This liquid was believed to possess mystical powers and was very highly-valued. Because of the name of the city (Myra) in which these water-producing rock relics were discovered, the liquid was named myrrh.

Have you heard of myrrh? Of course you have.  It’s known to have been given as a special gift (along with gold and frankincense) by a far-originated, camel-propelled, westward-leading, star-following royalty who traveled in a threesome. These three men were also reputed to be wise.

Fourth century Turkish history then relates the story of a very wealthy man who lived in Myra — a man who (because he had experienced such good fortune in his life) wanted to become generous. So he decided to disperse some of his wealth to the less-fortunate residents of his city. Of particular significance, the man decided to disseminate gifts of considerable value: gold coins, other precious metals and fabrics, and fragrant substances — even a little myrrh.

The man created a gift-distribution plan that was both unique and memorable. In fact, the manner in which his gifts were to be distributed 1,700 years ago just might sound a little familiar to you.

His plan entailed an itinerary of traipsing from rooftop-to-rooftop throughout the city, descending (inside) the chimneys of his intended gift-receivers, and leaving gifts in front of each domicile’s fireplace. As regards the schedule, the man’s gifting was to be done late at night while the recipients were fast asleep.

(Today, such activities might be referred to by our local law enforcement officials as “third-degree felonious breaking and entering” but, again, this was 1,700 years ago.)

And so, the man’s first rooftop “gift-giving” escapade was conducted, and was so successful that he decided to do the same thing again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

— Next week: The first guy who wore red and white.


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