The significance of gift giving is that it is an act of sharing, a mindful transaction between the giver and the recipient.
In the case of Christmas beer, no everyday beer will do. A gift is something special; it must be brewed with better ingredients or spices or to a greater strength.
Likewise, it can not be accepted as an everyday beer. It must be received with appreciation for its craftsmanship, its unique flavor, its potency.
Unwrap it and smile.
But remember: Gift-giving is meaningless unless both the giver and the recipient share in this spirit of good will. Otherwise it might as well be just another sixpack of Michelob Ultra.
Don’t laugh: Centuries ago, an ordinary beer at Christmastime might’ve earned you a good thumping from an angry mob.
I’m referring to the grand tradition of wassail, a familiar if little-used word whose roots are in a fifth-century Saxon toast: ves heill, good health. Through much of the second millennium, wassail also meant the joyous singing of songs by crowds of red-nosed revelers, marching from door to door at Christmastime, carrying gaily decorated cups that would be ladled with ale.
And not just any ale.
A fitting bowl would be English ale flavored with nutmeg and sugar, garnished with toast and roasted crab apples. Some called the beverage “lamb’s wool,” perhaps because it was so warming.
And it better be strong—much stronger than the usual small beer they drank from day to day. In Norway, where many Christmas beer traditions began, a farmer who served weak beer was considered dishonorable and would have a spell cast on his land.