Before the Holiday Spending Reports: A Brief History of Christmas


Before the Holiday Spending Reports: A Brief History of Christmas

First of all, let us wish you happy holidays, and a Merry Christmas. We assume this will pertain throughout History of Christmas, whenever you catch up with this post.

And as we all slip into more congenial, hopefully somewhat more relaxed “holiday time,” we also leave behind our reports of spending and card use trends, card security breaches (but oh boy — more about that in the new year!) and such, for a little bit, to contemplate how it was we got “here.”

The Evolution of Christmas in America

And by “here,” we mean the current incarnation of the holiday season, with its carols, lights, mall Santas, Christmas specials, and of course, its status as a lynchpin economic indicator.

But it was not always so, even — particularly — here in America! In fact, in the country’s earliest decades, Christmas was not even celebrated by everyone. The Puritans didn’t believe in it, for example, since  Christmas revelry, decorating and gift-giving aren’t mentioned in the Bible. On the other hand, Antebellum Plantation owners  in the South liked to have lavish feasts, as they tried to emulate the presumed behavior of English barons and earls.

From a Simple Celebration to a Federal Holiday

Many people didn’t even regard it as a “holiday” for a long stretch of  the country’s formative years.  In  fact, Christmas wasn’t even a Federal holiday until Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill making it one… in 1870! Luckily for celebrants this week, that same bill made New Year’s Day a holiday (and you’ll be thankful again next summer too — that bill was when July 4th became official “time off,” as well!)

Santa and the Advent of Modern Christmas Traditions

By the time of Grant’s signing, railroads had connected the country, and the Civil War left a kind of pining for a kinder, more “close knit” time in our collective, presumed past. Brewing Santa traditions and Christmas tree and decorating traditions, brought from Northern Europe in the early 1800’s, reached a kind of fruition in the late 19th century as the Santa imagery became refined by cartoonists like Thomas Nast (and later, in the 20’s and 30’s, by the advertising department of Coca Cola!)

Santa’s rise as the modern jolly figure we know was also coincident with the Gilded Age’s industrial boom, and the rise of large “flagship” department stores in major cities, so “Christmas shopping,” as such, was born in earnest (eclipsing the popularity that hand-made gifts had had at the outset of the 1800’s!)

The Beginning of Modern Holiday Shopping

Add a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in 1924 (though “Black Friday” was, of course, still several decades away), the invention of “layaway” in the Depressionp-era 30’s to buy things through payments, and then the  invention of credit cards starting in the 20’s and 30’s (with early charging plans for motorists and air travelers), leading to the arrival of the Diners’ Club card — and the modern concept of  “charge anywhere” — in the late 1950’s, and all the elements were in place for what has now become the “quintessential” retail period on a merchant’s calendar.

Wrapping Up the Festive Journey

We hope your quintessential holiday is treating you and yours kindly! Enjoy the week – -and we’ll see you back here ‘round New Year’s! 😉

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