Commercialization of Christmas


Allan Rau

Children asking Santa what they want for Christmas, a tradition dating back to the 19th Century.

Charlie Brown knows it, the Coca Cola Company knows it, the Pope knows it. Whether the fact is loved or hated, no one can deny that Christmas has become an extremely commercial season. Each year, starting in November and continuing to the 25th of December, millions of dollars are spent and earned in the name of the holiday.

This commercial spirit has pervaded cultural traditions too. Everything from songs to gift giving has become a commercial venture, and has caused a religious holiday to surpass its roots to become a universally celebrated extravaganza. Some argue that this commercialism cheapens the season, while others hold that widespread consumerist culture enhances and helps spread the Christmas spirit. This holiday season The Panther dug deep to examine all sides of this complicated issue.

The Christmas Creep:

Every year the “christmas creep” sentiment becomes more prominent earlier in the year. The christmas creep is a marketing ploy used by advertisers and merchandise salesman to extend the holiday season earlier in the year to increase sales. This is a tactic that has been in use as early as the 19th century. It began by stores using direct and constant promotions for Christmas products. It continued to develop through projects like those based off of the “Christmas in July” initiative by the government for people to donate cards or gifts to troops overseas in World War II. An example of this is Walmart’s “layaway” program, which starts in September to promote early holiday shopping. This year, Christmas merchandise has been found in stores since the beginning of September, four months before the actual holiday.

Sam Hiatt ’17 views this as a dampener on the holiday cheer: “It comes to the point where it’s not about the Christmas magic anymore and it’s more about the products and consumerism” Hiatt says.

However, some feel as though the “Christmas creep” is generally a good thing, like Maddie Deasy ’20: “I’m a big Christmas fan myself so I don’t mind the Christmas craziness coming sooner and sooner” Deasy stated. She later adds “September may be a bit early, and the whole Christmas in July thing is a bit nuts.”

The idea of putting more Christmas products out earlier has consumers, those actually buying the products, a bit frustrated, even angry at times.

“I don’t like how it gets so [business-oriented] earlier and earlier, even with commercials that say ‘prepare for the Christmas season.’” Hiatt exclaims. “I hate that. It just gets so annoying.”

Despite the complaints of consumers, it doesn’t seem like the “Christmas creep” will be leaving anytime soon. Shops are still stocking their shelves with santa hats and tinsel before Halloween. However, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, “…no data exists quantifying exactly whether or how extending the shopping season benefits retailers”.  It seems as though Christmas’s earlier dawn has no real benefits for either consumers or retailers.

Ho ho ho!

Santa Claus has gone through a lot of evolution to become the white-bearded, present-bearing man the western world knows today. Though Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in Europe, many different cultural approaches and historical changes in his image have led to his transformation into being a shopping mall favorite.

Saint Nicholas was born in modern-day Turkey around 280 A.D. and was beloved for his generosity. Left an orphan at an early age with a great amount of inherited wealth, Nicholas became a monk and spent his money on the poor and needy. He passed away on December 6 and continued to be celebrated throughout Europe, eventually making his debut in America when a New York newspaper reported that Dutch families had gathered to celebrate his death anniversary. He was known as ‘Sinter Klaas’ in Holland and started to become more prominent in America, adopting the name ‘Santa Claus”. The man was described in a wide variety of ways and didn’t adopt a universally recognized persona until Clement Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a poem in 1822 for his daughters describing Santa as a “right jolly old elf” who climbed through chimneys to deliver gifts. This story was adopted by many and political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the first modern image of the cheerful man in a tan-colored coat with a sack of toys in 1881. For the next thirty years, his drawings evolved and the jolly old man started sporting a signature red coat.

Though Santa Claus continued to be portrayed as anything ranging from a little elf to a troll-like man in animal skin, companies began to use him for advertising purposes. One of the most influential companies who promoted his image was Coca-Cola, who has portrayed the twinkle-eyed man in ads since as early as the 1920s. Coca-Cola’s website reveals that they commissioned an illustrator by the name of Haddon Sundblom in 1931who developed advertising images based on Moore’s Santa until 1964. According to the site, “people loved the Coca-Cola Santa images and paid such close attention to them that when anything changed, they sent letters to The Coca-Cola Company. One year, Santa’s large belt was backwards. Another year, Santa Claus appeared without a wedding ring, causing fans to write asking what happened to Mrs. Claus.” Sundblom would paint his own image in the mirror to create the most realistic image possible. Quite literally, the modern Santa Claus is modeled after a salesman.

It can be argued that Santa no longer promotes the values and lessons Saint Nicholas would have promoted in American society today. The idea of giving gifts to children on Christmas morning is based on the saint’s generous acts. However, his image now symbolizes consumerism and greed. The prevalence of advertisement of Santa Claus in the Advent season has been criticized for distracting from the greater meaning of Christmas and the humility which this season is meant to instill in people.

Top 40

Christmas carols first originated in Europe during celebrations of winter solstice and were actually pagan songs. Even though the pagan songs were sang year-round, winter was the time when they were most remembered. Christians took inspiration from Europe’s pagan songs and created songs of their own, now commonly know today as “Christmas Songs.” Some of the earliest songs were in 129 and 760. In 129, “Angel’s Hymn” was written for a Roman Christmas Service. In 760, Comas of Jerusalem made a Christmas Hymn specifically for the Greek Orthodox Church. Numerous European composers then created their own Christian songs. Unfortunately, the songs were in Latin. Many people did not know Latin and therefore did not like the songs.

But, in 1223, Saint Francis of Assisi made performers in his nativity plays sing canticles. Most of the words in the canticles were in a language that people could understand. So, people enjoyed the songs again. The carols that were in the new language extended out to other European countries such as Spain, France, and Germany. However, many carols during this time are false. However, the carols did not exactly follow the Christmas story and were not precisely telling people about the Holy Family. The carols were just fun songs to sing during the winter time and were not sung for religious purposes. Minstrels, people during the Medieval times who sang or made music and recited, changed the words to the songs that they were singing too. In 1647, when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans gained power in England, Christmas carols were no longer sung. Although, some people sang them privately and that made the carols stay alive. Also, during the Victorian times, William Sandys and Davis Gillbert went to European villages and got old Christmas music.

Waits were groups of designated carol singers who were led by important people in the local area. The leaders had the authority to take money from citizens. The name “Wait” comes from the words “watchnight” or “waitnight”. Those terms were derived from the event of Angels descending onto the shepherds looking over their sheep. Additionally, orchestras and choirs were being organized in England. People wanted to sing Christmas songs as well during this period so once again Christmas carols were popular.

As mention before, carols were supposed to be religious songs. Today, many popular Christmas songs are far from religious. According to Billboard’s Holiday 100, the number one Christmas song as of right now is the famous “All I Want for Christmas is You” by Mariah Carey. Obviously after pressing replay on this song countless times each day, the main message is clear. This song is not about religion, but rather finding someone during the Christmas season. Another song in the top 5 of the Holiday 100 is “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee. This song is about having fun and celebrating Christmas. However, it is not about the nativity. So, it is not a religious song. Popular songs, although catchy, take away the true meaning of the Christmas carols and what the songs are supposed to be celebrating.


As the Christmas creep makes the season longer and longer, and commercial interests bring the season to greater importance in the minds of Prepsters, it is important to think about how the season started. When seeing Santa Claus smiling from a billboard, or singing a Christmas tune, it is important to keep in mind the history that has gone into making this season into what it is today.

The history of Christmas is a long and complicated one, and its current state is the result of years of history and change. Wherever one stands on holiday commercialism, The Panther wishes Prep a very merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Quanza or whatever else. Peace on earth and good will towards men (and women)!