It’s common knowledge that consumer spending typically spikes during the holiday season, which, if you haven’t been paying attention, is now officially upon us.
According to Deloitte, 2018 should be no different. Their annual holiday economic forecast anticipates an increase in retail sales of up to 5.6% this year thanks to consumers seeming “bullish about the economy, their household financial situation, and their spending plans” for the 2018 end-of-year shopping sprees.
Forms of gold, silver, and other precious metals have long been favorite gifts to give during the holiday season. They’re universally appreciated, typically small and easy to package and generally known for holding their value well. They’re the gifts that literally “keep on giving.”
While you may feel it’s a bit early to start “making your list and checking it twice,” the season of gifting gold is actually kicking off sooner than you may think. In just a few short days, the enormous Indian celebration Diwali starts, and after that, it’s a quick slide into the many other gold-laden holidays that fill the fall and winter months.
The multitude of back-to-back religious and cultural festivities packing the end-of-year global calendar has contributed to the seasonality of the precious metals market, which is marked in large part by increased consumer spending on gold jewelry, silver coins and other forms of precious metals.
So, in our opinion, the time is now to tune in to the many festivities that are coming up around the world — no matter how far away (both date and location wise) they may seem.
First up on the global calendar is Diwali and the Indian fall-winter wedding season.
Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated primarily in India but lauded around the world. The five-day affair, which kicks off this year on November 7thin North India, honors Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of prosperity. The holiday “is widely regarded as the most auspicious festival on the calendar for gift giving,” according to Thomson Reuters, with Dhanteras, the first of the five days, known as a particularly fortuitous time to buy gold and silver.
Diwali lines up with the fall harvest season in the northern hemisphere, which consequently, also lines up with the Indian autumn-winter wedding season. The converging of these two celebratory periods has historically impacted the precious metals markets with significant spikes in consumer spending.
A recent article from Forbes cites the World Gold Council findings that during this jubilant time of year, 20% of the global demand for gold comes from India. It further points out that in 2017, Indian gold imports for the period spanning Diwali to the end of the fall-winter wedding season swelled by 67%, “and physical traders are unsurprisingly counting on a repeat in 2018.”
If you haven’t experienced one for yourself, an Indian wedding is quite the affair. Apart from multi-day agendas, often lavish meals and stellar entertainment, Indian weddings are well known for something else — gold.
Gold is a mainstay in Indian culture, and weddings are particularly prime times to show off the holdings of the two families that are coming together. A 2012 report by CBS News points out that fifty-percent of the gold bought by Indians is done so for the estimated 10 million weddings that are hosted in the country every year. Brides are gifted gold jewelry and other forms of the precious metal that her parents have been amassing since her birth, and Thomson Reuters points out that “valuable gifts like gold jewelry and silver articles” are also gifted to the groom.
Following Diwali is the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, taking place this year December 2–10.
While we don’t see nearly the existential tie to gold with Hanukkah as we do with Diwali, there is one tradition we thought was worth noting: Hanukkah gelt.
In the shtetls of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe, Jewish people would gift “Hanukkah gelt” as a token of thanks and gratitude for the services of itinerant workers. This gelt was essentially an end-of-year tip for working people serving the community.
Popular legend also links Hanukkah gold to the Maccabees’ victory over the ancient Greeks, for which Hasmoneans minted national coins to celebrate the win. Nearly 2,000 years later in 1958, the Bank of Israel issued coins to commemorate this fateful triumph — the coins were to be used as Hanukkah gelt.
Additionally, the Hanukkah gelt Wikipedia page notes that, according to Rabbi A. P. Bloch, 17thcentury Jewish Poland practiced the giving of money “to their small children for distribution to their teachers.” Over time, children eventually wanted gelt for themselves, too. Obliging parents conceded, and the practice was thus transformed from one focusing solely on teachers to concentrating on both the teachers and the children.
As Jews began to emigrate, the traditions of Hanukkah shift even more. Particularly in the U.S. where the emphasis on gift giving for Christmas is so prevalent, we see American Jews focusing more on gifts during Hanukkah.
Hanukkah gelt, which we mentioned traditionally functioned as an end-of-year tip, has today morphed into a lighthearted tradition of enjoying chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.
And of course, then comes Christmas. This Christian holiday, which celebrates the birth of the baby Jesus, is widespread and well known around the world. There are elements of precious metals sprinkled throughout its traditions, from carols to décor to simply the elegant and often elevated aesthetic it brings to the proverbial table (and to the real table, for that matter).
But the threads of silver and gold stitched throughout Christmas aren’t represented only by gilded decorations and kitschy songs.
For example, the practice of hanging stockings on the fireplace mantle finds its origins in stories of gifting real pieces of gold. As the tale goes, a widowed father was particularly down on his luck and having a hard time providing for his three daughters. As St. Nicholas, who happened to be visiting the village of the impoverished man, strolled through the town’s streets, he overheard villagers discussing the plight of the unfortunate father. St. Nicholas, knowing the man would not accept explicit acts of charity, decided to slide down the man’s chimney that night to help in a less public way. Once inside, he found the girls’ freshly washed stockings air-drying on the mantle. He filled the stockings with gold coins, then scooted back up the chimney, never to be discovered by the family as the giver of these golden gifts.
And of course, there’s the longstanding popularity of gifting gold, silver, platinum and other precious metal jewelry for Christmas. Christmas is popularly known as one of, if not the most significant holidays on the Christian calendar. As such, many Americans and others who celebrate the day pinch their pennies to save up for something extra special like precious metals for their loved ones.
But the season of giving gold (and other precious metals) doesn’t stop with Christmas day. For many in Latin America and Spain, the Christmas holiday ends in the new year with Three Kings’ Day. This holiday, which falls on the 6thof January, or the 12thday of Christmas, marks the time when the three wise men, three magi or “three kings” visit baby Jesus for the first time bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The gifting of gold by one of the Magi represents the belief that Jesus was indeed King of the Jews.
Other Gold Giving Traditions
And while not necessarily related to holiday festivities, there are also traditions of gifting gold within far east Asian cultures. In Korea, a longstanding custom calls for presenting babies with their very own 24-karat gold ring. While the practice has reportedly been breaking down in recent years, these gold gifts are still widely believed to bring good health and fortune for years to come.
In China, where a prosperous middle class has been growing, and individuals are no longer barred from owning gold, the practice of buying jewelry and other forms of precious metals as presents has increased in popularity over recent decades.
With all these traditions coming in to play, it’s clear that the gold market is indeed a global phenomenon. Keeping an eye on the many cultures that spend big on precious metals, particularly during the holiday season is not only prudent but necessary.
Written by the U.S. Gold Bureau.