New Year's Gifts
The Greeks transmitted the custom to the Romans, and the Romans to the early Britons. The Roman presents were called strenae, whence the French term étrenne (a New, Year's gift). Our forefathers used to bribe the magistrates with gifts on New Year's Day- a custom abolished by law in 1290, but even down to the reign of James II. the monarchs received their tokens.
N.B. Nonius Marcellus says that Tatius, King of the Sabines, was presented with some branches of trees cut from the forest sacred to the goddess Strenia (strength, on New Year's Day, and from this happy omen established the custom.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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