Has Christmas Really Changed?

Christmas in 1969

I think most people have fond memories of Christmases of their youth, and perhaps those memories get glossed over and airbrushed with each passing year.  As the memories get fainter, they become more and more like a Norman Rockwell painting rather than the less-than-perfect holiday it really was.

What I'm getting at is this: it's become a cliche to say Christmas today is materialistic and over-commercialized; whereas, when I was a kid it was quaint and humble.  We've lost the Meaning of Christmas....... I call bullshit on that.

I'll grant you that we tend to spend a lot more.  Gone are the days of being happy with a sweater, a cap gun, and some hard candy.  But that was the A LONG time ago.... and, quite frankly, they didn't have the disposable income or credit to lavish their kids with gifts, otherwise, they might have. 

I don't know about you, but I well remember the Christmases of the 1970s.  Tons of TV commercials (I had to have the Mr. Microphone and Stretch Armstrong), tons of commercialization, tons of materialism.... to be perfectly honest, not much has changed in the past forty or so years.

Sure, the sheer volume of gifts has increased (thanks to high interest credit cards and slave labor in China), but Christmas in the seventies was a far, far cry from The Little House on the Prairie where Laura only gets a corn cob doll.  In fact, the main culprits for the commercialization of Christmas can be found in the 1940s and 1950s.  Once retailers found out that Christmas was a cash cow, there was no end to the milking of the Christmas spirit for financial gain.  Soon, Ol' Saint Nick was schilling for Coke, RJ Reynolds, Norelco, and Frigidaire.  Who knew the birth of Jesus could be such a commercial bonanza?

Of course, there have been a few changes.  For one, the Christmas season has lengthened significantly.... to the point where we're are all nearly tired of it by the time it rolls around.  I have to admit, it is a bit sickening to see the Christmas decorations being put up the day after Halloween.  That I could live without.

Many would claim the religious aspect of the season is almost completely gone.  They say the Christmas season has been essentially wiped clean of any connection to the Christian holy day.  I would beg to differ.

We all remember Linus' speech in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, and we all remember the Rankin Bass Little Drummer Boy..... those were direct religious connections in the mainstream media.  You just don't see that anymore in the mainstream... mainly because of the public outcry and litigation they'd receive.  Wal-Mart and Starbucks don't say "Merry Christmas" because they'll get sued to hell and back.

However, there's still plenty of Nativity scenes in front yards, tons of religious programming on cable channels, and plenty of "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger" being sung.  People that bitch and moan about the True Meaning of Christmas being lost are just not looking.  Churches will be standing room only on Christmas, and the day is what you make of it, really.

So, in summary, Christmas has changed significantly from 90 to 100 years ago.... but then, what hasn't? Christmas by and large is the same retail blitz it's always been for the past forty to fifty years.  What say you?


  1. Here, here - with you all the way. It's what you make of it. The cost seems to have risen(if you've got kids) X box games and gadgets etc ...having said that as I got older, I wanted guitars, amps and bigger things..

    Did you ever get albums of chart hits reworked for budget compilations in the US. Posted a few of the UK Christmas ones here if you fancy a seasonal earful. Lennon, Macca and Elton all reworked

  2. I think it's become more commercialized over the years, but I agree that it has always been commercialized. Big box retailers are open later, they start getting out the Christmas decorations before Halloween is over, and they have insane door buster sales the day after Thanksgiving.

    I wonder if Christmas was as much hell on my parents as it is on my wife and I?

  3. I agree. Christmas was pretty material when I was a kid (Man did I yearn for the Six-Million Dollar Man action figure), and today, it's only as material as we parents let it be.

    The "true meaning" of Christmas has been lost since about the 1950s, but there are places you can see it if you look around.

  4. I agree, as well. And even on a personal level, it is the same here as it was when I was a kid, even though I am an Atheist. My parents did nothing religious other than set up a nativity scene. Meant nothing to me, really, other than another weird Christmas decoration.

  5. Here's the thing-That PEANUTS TV special was produced in 1965, the year I was born. I watched the special as an excited kid in the 70s, waiting for the big toy bonanza that was Christmas, then, in the 80s, got it's real message (and agreed with it) of "over-commercialization."

    Funny how that works!

    Al Bigley

  6. I wonder what one of those "Christmas has been ruined by commercialization" scolds would say if all they had under the tree for Christmas was a corn cob doll. Nothing printable on a family blog, I expect. In other words, it always seems to be middle-class-to-well-off people who bitch about this kind of thing and "want" to return to a "simpler time"; meanwhile, poor people would love to have a tree with presents overflowing all around it.

    And, really, Christmas has been commercial for over a hundred years. There's a reason we think of the Victorian era as "traditional Christmas" time: because that's when business started advertising and the factories churning out toys.

  7. Good points. I agree that Christmas has probably always been as commercialized as it is today, but they just didn't start quite so early in the year.

  8. Some great comments. Frank hit it on the head: all those idiots whining about the "meaning of Christmas" being lost would be the first to bitch and moan if they received "a corn cob doll".

    And Mondo, I got tons of K-Tel compilation albums, but they were actually by the original artist.

  9. I think where people get confused is by comparing their childhood awareness to their adult awareness. Sure, my childhood Christmas mornings were more sparse and yet filled with Joy. It was also the late 70's and because people had less money (and credit to the masses hadn;t arrived yet) the stock of available crap wasn't on the shelves yet.

    The inventory of crap you could waste money on just wasn't as vast as it is now. The commercialism and materialism was still there, though, and anyone who claims differently is in denial. How many boys did I go to school with that wanted the Six Million Dollar Man doll AND a Farrah poster?!?!?

    I cherish the few memories I have of childhood elation over the occasionally *awesome* gift. And I know that my niece and nephew will someday feel the same way this weekend when we give them our presents.


  10. My childhood was the 50s and 60s. We had all the toy ads on TV, but Christmas definitely was not rushed like it is today. The season did NOT start until after Thanksgiving, and there were no 24/7 Christmas music stations. They didn't play non-stop Christmas music until Christmas Eve. There were definite lines drawn between Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know I am remembering it all through a child's eye. I believed in Santa Claus because I did not think my parents could afford all the toys I got. And back in those dark ages, we didn't have expensive elaborate things like Wii and Xbox, iPods etc. I'm sure it didn't cost as much as I thought but it looked like a lot to me. I also got such a big kick out of buying gifts, oh the CRAP parents and grandparents got from me, LOL.

  11. Christmas peaked in 1981--Mr. Quarterback. Had to have it. Got it. My parents divorced that spring, but by then I could catch timed, 20-30 yard passes in the backyard from a plastic football thrower--a valuable commodity back in Jr. high school. You see, I briefly played lacrosse and football, but my mad skills developed into an indoor volleyball spiking/blocking machine inspired by Devo, The Stooges and Billy Squier. I was vaguely cool, but v-ball was a very uncool. It confused girls into dating me. Don't you forget about me, Lisa!!

  12. Well, in our family we've had a "no gifts" rule for the past few years (although some people always break it), and we never "bitch and moan" about the lack of gifts. Times are tough and frankly it's hard to enjoy Christmas when everyone's all stressed and cranky about all the shopping they had to do. Instead we just get together, stuff ourselves with food, and make each other laugh.

    We do still give gifts to the kids, but I notice that they have developed this sense of entitlement to where they don't even acknowledge the gifts you give them. Even the older kids don't think to send a thank you or even acknowledge that they received it.

    I also notice that we're the only family left on our block that puts out a nativity on our lawn. Everyone else has inflated Santas, snowmen, or pop culture icons. You can hardly even find nativity lawn sets in the stores anymore.

  13. Remember though, the Christmas of our youth was simpler because the adults did all the work.

    Now YOU have to plan the parties and send out the invites, cook the meals and clean up afterward.

    YOU have to assemble the toys after the kids go to sleep and you have to get gifts not only for mom and dad and sis, like the old days, but sis's husband and children and other extended family members. Parents did all that back then.

    Christmas has ALWAYS been commercialized. That is why is was all but outlawed by the churches in the early days of America. They saw it as an excuse for the public to spend money they didn't have and find themselves a year older but not a penny richer.

    I saved up my allowance and babysitting money to buy mom a storybook of Lifesavers, and order my dad a Roman chess set from the Sears Catalog. That was the best Christmas I can remember.

    The joy's of youth.

  14. Lacey makes a great point: of course Christmas is awesome when you're a kid! You get presents and a week off from school and don't have to do shit! When you're the one who has to run around overflowing malls trying to figure out what to get that old bad Great-Aunt Ethel, decorate the house, figure out how to pay for all this crap, and then wrap it all, it loses a bit of the magic.

    It's the same thing when I hear politicians or other people moan about how the country should return to some Golden Era (usually the 1950s) when everything was simpler and better. OF COURSE IT WAS SIMPLER AND HAPPIER; YOU WERE A (WHITE, STRAIGHT) KID!

  15. Christmas is a subversion of the Winter Solstice since Roman times. If JC lived, he was born in April, but the Roman Church Authority designated Dec 25 to take the thunder away from the Pagans who celebrated the Solstice. The fact that we celebrate Christmas in December is the ultimate betrayal of any true religious foundation for this event. And, personally, I'm OK with that!

  16. Gotta give a virtual high-five to lacey, frank, and david for being dead-on in their observations. The Winter Solstice/Saturnalia is the blueprint for Xmas. JC's "birthday" was a convenient cover story to keep celebrating this Pagan festival.

    In the dead of winter who doesn't need a bit of fun company and a feast!

    Our family has seriously toned down on the Chinese import crap because we have to prioritize the funds. Focusing on the feast -- we have leftovers for several days afterward. No complaints(and far more economical). Little ones still get gifts--we're not that harsh!