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The True Meaning of Christmas
Paganism, Sun Worship and Commercialism



2. The Commercial Takeover of Christmas

The most sceptical view of modern Christmas is that the fads, decorations, festive goods and all the paraphernalia are a commercial scam to make us spend money on over-priced useless goods. However true this is, it has also become a secular social festival much akin to the American thanksgiving. Families come together at Christmas even if they do not for the rest of the year. It probably helps that Christmas and New Year's celebrations have become institutionally intertwined. These make Christmas in essence a meaningful family celebration, even if on top of that there is a thick cover of shallow commercialism.

The festivities are largely led by commerce and retail outlets: The relevant decorations, cards, food and goods are all marketed for Christmas, and it is the High Streets that press Christmas upon the populace way before the populace itself is ready. It is a frequent complaint that stores start Christmas "too early" and too aggressively. Several elements of Christmas are the invention purely of commercial advertisements.

2.1. The Origin of Christmas Cards

Take the example of the commercial invention of the Christmas card; with corporate effort, these would have remained an expensive privilege of the rich.

“The Christmas card represented a convenient and sophisticated evolution of the ancient custom of giving blessings or good wishes for the New Year. By 1840 it was often carried on among the wealthier classes by sending a short poem engraved within an ornamental framework. [...] This, and some imitations, proved to be commercial failures because they were too expensive. In 1862, therefore, a fresh start was made by the stationers Messrs Charles Goodall, which printed cheap plain greetings. By the end of the decade they were becoming decorated, and other firms were producing them. [...] In 1878 the volume sent was sufficient for the Post Office to commence a separate record of Christmas mail, and in the 1890s the cards became a popular craze, and continued to expand their market over the next century. In 1992 1,560 million were sent, and the commercial value of the Christmas card trade was £250 million.”

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain"
Ronald Hutton (1996)7

2.2. Father Christmas, Santa Claus: The Personification of Christmas

The human figurehead of the festive season is a modern creation; before the seventeenth century such a figure has no history.

“Nobody seems to have thought of personifying Christmas until the early seventeenth century. It was done then partly because of the general taste of the age for allegory and partly because the criticism of observation of the feast by radical Protestants made a representation of it convenient to writers determined to defend it. Thus in 1616 Ben Jonson introduced to the world, Christmas His Masque, presented a figure 'in a round hose, long stockings, a close doublet, a high-crowned hat with a brooch, a long thin beard, a truncheon, little ruffs, white shoes, his scarfs, and garters tied cross.' [...] Over the next 250 years this sort of character was to feature repeatedly in pictures, stage plays, and folk-drama, known variously as Sir Christmas, Lord Christmas, or (increasingly) as Father Christmas. He was essentially concerned with the adult world, personifying feasting and games, he had no connection with presents, and he was not treated with much respect, being generally a burlesque figure of fun. Then Santa Claus turned up. In origins he was, of course, the medieval patron of children, St Nicholas, who remained a favourite popular figure amongst the Dutch.”

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain"
Ronald Hutton (1996)8

This figure gradually moved from St Nicholas Eve to Christmas Eve.

“In 1809 Washington Irving, whose sentimental interest in traditional Christmases has been mentioned, drew attention to the old tradition in his Knickerbocker's History of New York, rescheduling it from St Nicholas's Eve to Christmas Eve. Irving's portrait was repeated in an 1821 issue of the Children's Friend, published in the same city, and that may have been the direct inspiration to another New Yorker, Clement Clark Moore, to create the modern Santa. [...] His saint was not the traditional, sentimental, figure of the Dutch, but a magical sprit of the northern midwinter. He wore fur cloths, had a bushy white beard, traveled through the sky merrily in a sleigh drawn by reindeer, and came down chimneys with a sack of gifts. [...] Soon after 1863, he was frequently depicted wearing a red suit, trimmed with white fur.”

"The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain"
Ronald Hutton (1996)7

From 1931, Haddon Sundblom the illustrator for Coca Cola "drew a series of Santa images in their Christmas advertisements until 1964"9, which is where the tradition of a Santa Claus wearing red comes from. The colours red and green had always been prominent in Christmas card greetings, however.

2.3. Commercial Christmas

Prominent elements of Christmas are commercial inventions, from Father Christmas (and his suit) to Christmas Cards. The history of commercialist Christmas is older still than those creations. From the 1870s onwards, The Times broadsheet could be relied upon to attack the commercialism of Christmas10. Clearly, its commercialisation has not destroyed it and since the nineteenth century, it has become even more popular than ever.

To remove the commercial aspects of Christmas would be largely to destroy it; religious activists would create in its place a series of historically-challenged myths and break it into a sectarian event. Without commercialism the general populace, Protestant Christians, secularists and evangelical Christians would all cease to have anything in common during the festive season.