Hallmark Holiday Christmas: The Commercialization of the Holiday Season

mitun avatar   
The commercialization of Christmas is a double-edged sword. This in-depth history analyzes the pros and cons of the modern consumerist holiday season.

Hallmark Holiday Christmas: The Commercialization of the Holiday Season

The Christmas season has become synonymous with all things jolly, festive, and bright. Twinkling lights adorn homes, carols play on the radio, and shoppers hustle to find the perfect gifts. However, many argue that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost in the frenzy of commercialization and consumerism. This phenomenon has led some to coin the term “Hallmark holiday” in reference to Christmas.

The History and Origins of Christmas

Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. While the exact date of Jesus' birth is unknown, traditions associating it with December 25 emerged in the early centuries A.D. The word “Christmas” comes from the old English phrase “Christes maesse,” meaning “Christ’s mass.”

In the early days of the church, Christians did not widely celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was not until the 3rd and 4th centuries that commemorating Jesus’ birth became more common. In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered Christmas to be celebrated on December 25. One theory suggests the church selected this date because it aligned with the winter solstice, an already popular pagan celebration.

Many modern Christmas traditions have origins in these old pagan winter solstice festivals. Going door to door caroling, burning the Yule log, and decorating with evergreens all trace back to pagan traditions. Over time, the Christian celebration absorbed these customs.

By the Middle Ages, Christmas had become the most important Christian celebration. The holiday grew more prominent after Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800 A.D. Medieval Christmas traditions like feasting, gift-giving, and decorating with holly and ivy emerged during this era.

When European immigrants brought Christmas to the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries, it began to take on a more secular tone. By the 19th century, Christmas became a family celebration focused on exchanging gifts and spending time together.

The Commercialization of Christmas in the 19th and 20th Centuries

The publication of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (now known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) in 1823 helped cement many modern Christmas traditions in the American imagination. This poem introduced the idea of Santa Claus as the jolly gift-giver driving his sleigh led by eight reindeer.

However, the biggest driver of Christmas commercialization came later in the 19th century. In the 1840s, wealthy New Yorker John Pintard helped transform New Year’s celebrations into a more family-centric holiday and linked Christmas to national pride and Santa Claus. Retail stores like Macy’s tapped into this, using Christmas to drive consumer spending.

By the early 20th century, purchasing gifts had become an expected Christmas custom. Retailers exaggerated the role of Santa Claus to fuel children’s material excitement about the holiday. The rise of mass media in the 1920s spread ideas about Christmas traditions and consumption nationwide.

During the post-World War II economic boom, Christmas commercialization accelerated rapidly. Retailers extended holiday promotions earlier into November to maximize spending. American toy companies capitalized on the holiday, making it a key time for sales. Television advertising idealized lavish Christmas celebrations replete with piles of gifts.

Today, robust Christmas spending makes up nearly 20% of U.S. retail sales each year. Over $730 billion was spent during the 2019 holiday season alone. Critics now argue Christmas has strayed far from its religious roots into a stressful display of extravagance and overspending.

Pros of the Commercialized Christmas Season

While some bemoan Christmas commercialization, others see benefits in the frenzy of festive spending and celebrations:

  • Economic stimulus - The holiday shopping season is vital for many businesses’ profitability and drives economic growth. Holiday sales account for an immense chunk of annual revenue in industries like retail, travel, and food.
  • Preservation of traditions - Although now profit-driven, Christmas commerce helps preserves once religious customs like gift-giving, tree decorating, and Santa Claus. Commercialization has ensured these traditions remain relevant in secular society.
  • Bringing joy - For many families, the excitement of glossy store displays, jolly tunes, and the latest must-have gifts are core parts of the holiday joy. Consumerism makes the Christmas fantasy come to life.
  • Cultural unification - Christmas advertising, movies, and products give people a shared holiday experience. The consumerist aspects provide common traditions regardless of one’s religious beliefs.
  • Gift-giving benefits - Exchanging gifts strengthens social bonds and introduces children to the idea of selfless giving to others. The commercial aspects enable this on a mass scale.

Cons of the Commercialized Christmas Season

However, the materialistic slant of the modern Christmas also invites reasonable critiques:

  • Distraction from religious origins - Cynics argue Christmas commerce triumphs Christianity’s true message. Shopping and Santa Claus now dwarf Jesus’ birth in cultural significance.
  • Stress and debt - Christmas commercialization promotes unaffordable levels of spending. It links happiness to materialism and plunges low-income families into debt. The holiday stress takes a mental health toll.
  • Environmental impact - The collective waste of single-use packaging, disposable decorations, and quickly obsolete gadgets clashes with sustainability. Commercialization promotes overconsumption with environmental costs.
  • Labor exploitation - Critics point to supply chain abuses in factories churning out cheap holiday decorations and gifts. Retail workers also face long hours and unreasonable expectations during Christmas crunch times.
  • Cultural conformity - Some see the commercialized Christmas as a force for cultural homogenization. It could steamroll diverse seasonal traditions into a uniform experience defined by consumerism.
  • Loss of deeper meaning - Focusing on material expressions of Christmas can distract from more meaningful pursuits like charity, faith, and quality time with loved ones. Commercialization makes these takes a backseat.

Finding a Balance with a Purposeful, Memorable Christmas Season

In truth, Christmas has always balanced religious worship with secular revelry. Perhaps instead of rejecting commercialization altogether, we can thoughtfully engage with it. Here are tips for keeping the holiday meaningful amid the retail frenzy:

  • Focus Christmas prep and celebrations on intangible gifts like quality time, gratitude, and making memories over material things.
  • When gift-giving, try opting for ethical and sustainable products that support your values. Avoid needless waste and excess.
  • Donate a portion of holiday budgets to a cause important to your family. Volunteer together if possible.
  • Keep elements of religious or cultural tradition central to the season. Attend candlelight church services, decorate eggs for Orthodox Christmas, etc.
  • Start new non-commercial traditions like hiking in nature, playing board games, or reading Christmas stories aloud together.
  • Simplify gift expectations for children and teach them about meaningful giving over lavish receiving.

The commercialized facets of Christmas aren’t inherently bad. But making conscious choices enables celebrating the joy of the season while keeping sight of deeper meanings. With thoughtfulness, Christmas commerce and meaning can coexist beautifully.

While Christmas has undoubtedly become extremely commercialized, this does not preclude us from having a meaningful holiday. With intention and balance, we can engage with timeless traditions in new ways and preserve what matters most. In the end, our collective understanding of the “true meaning” of Christmas evolves with the times. By learning from the past while staying focused on family and community in the present, we can shape Christmas into whatever we wish it to be – whether commercialized or not.

No comments found