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Bowls and Boxes of Holiday Presents

The Urn of Fate

Instead of a bowl full of jelly, how about a bowl full of presents? Ancient Romans exchanged gifts for luck in the New Year, and many Italian families still take turns drawing small gifts by chance from a large bowl called the "Urn of Fate" at their Christmas gatherings.

For more information on Italian Christmas traditions, check out this page, and this page.

Boxes of Hope and Goodwill

In the Middle Ages, earthenware boxes with a slit on top for coins became known as Christmas boxes. On the First Day of Christmas, the nobility distributed these boxes to their servants who later broke them open to receive the small sums of money inside. Other boxes were used as a Yuletide tip jar for guild tradesman (the material used for these boxes was called pygg - the predecessor of piggy banks).

During Advent, donations were collected in churches and monasteries in alms boxes also referred to as Christmas boxes. On the day after Christmas, these boxes were opened and the contents were distributed among the poor. Still other boxes were kept aboard sailing ships for donations to the priest who would offer mass - Christ-mass - prayers upon the safe return of the sailors.

Not surprisingly, the First Day of Christmas (December 26th) is still known as Boxing Day in many parts of the world that once formed the British empire.

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