Sometimes I'm tempted to give my kids gifts in a spread out way, instead of all at once, so they can appreciate each gift.

In the song The 12 Days of Christmas the author describes getting gifts on each day leading up to Christmas.

In Advent Calendars - there appear to be lollies(candies) that you open out each day leading up to Christmas.

My question is: Were there [in times past] gifts on the days leading up to Christmas instead of them all being on the one day? Is it a recent thing that we open gifts all on the one day?

  • When I was a child, I had an advent calendar like you describe; I was permitted to open one pocket/day and received a small gift in each pocket. I doubt this was a "custom", I think it is something my Mother did because she purchased an advent calendar that would support the practice. So in a literal sense, the answer to your question is "Yes", such a custom did exist in one instance. Is that useful history? no.
    – MCW
    Dec 11, 2014 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


The twelve days of Christmas were after it, not before it. Specifically, the carol comes from northern England, but is based on an ancient Scottish tradition called Da latha dheug na Nollaig. The twelve days are from Christmas to the Day of the Ephiphany. The Golden Bough by James Frazer has a long article on it.

In Scotland the twelve days of the Yule festival were celebrated according to the traditions of the viking invaders and they had the custom of giving gifts on all twelve days. You can find a long rundown of these and similar customs in Keary's book "Outline of Primitive Beliefs" (1882).

The use of the advent calendar and associated mini-gifts before Christmas is a modern phenomenon (19th century).

  • A similar tradition exists in other European countries. Just to complicate matters, a different tradition also exists regarding when Santa (St Nicholas) comes. See for example Polish Santa Claus.
    – andy256
    Dec 11, 2014 at 12:05
  • Our family tradition was to add the baby Jesus to the Nativity figures on Christmas, and to move the Wise Men closer each day until Epiphany. But no presents on the intervening days.
    – Oldcat
    Dec 11, 2014 at 19:11
  • @oldcat: there was also sometimes the association of the household children to the mages (or more figurines if there were more children). The idea was that the child which behave on a given day was moving faster in the progression that day. An extra present was awarded to the winner.
    – WoJ
    Dec 28, 2014 at 6:36

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