The True Meaning of Christmas Has Survived its Commercial Exploitation.
The Christmas holiday throughout the 20th Century and presently until today, has been an integral part of the U.S. economy. Commercial exploitation of Christmas has been systematic and thorough (Barnett, 84). This means that corporations and retailers spend millions of dollars each year to promote their products during the holiday season in a variety of different ways. For example, Christmas commercials for various department stores being aired during primetime television shows when they know most people are home watching television. Just as Christmas itself was not officially recognized and sanctioned in the United States until the mid to late nineteenth century, Christmas gift-giving did not become common until the same period (Miller, 90). Between 1820 and 1870 advertising in Philadelphia and New York newspapers for Christmas gifts was uncommon, with New Year's gifts or holiday gifts' being more commonly mentioned (Miller, 91). Yet by about 1870 Christmas gifts started to be promoted more heavily. American businesses display their toys, clothes, specials, jewelry, etc. through a variety of repetitive television commercials, newspaper ads, circulars, and magazine advertisements in an attempt to bring in the most customers. The Christmas "shopping season" starts the day after Thanksgiving and lasts right up to New Years Day, with the day after Christmas specials. Each year it seems that department stores start to display their holiday features earlier and earlier, as they attempt to remind shoppers that the upcoming holiday season is approaching.
The promotion of Christmas in advertising aims to attract attention and the public's desire for goods by associating them with well known holiday symbols (Miller, 93). The most common symbols used are Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer, the lit up Christmas tree, carolers singing songs, candles, bells, mistletoes, and snow-covered landscapes are all used to associate the merchants' products with the public's tradition of gift-giving during this holiday. New York is not one for leaving out the extravagance during this season, with its annual display of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. "The tree is always the center of attention at Rock Center during Christmastime. In fact the tree stands out like a beacon; it's the thing that brings out the cameras and the gawkery. Daily visitors to Rock Center double during the Christmas season, according to the management corporation, from an average of 125,000 to a quarter of a million" (Weber, 1).
The Evolution of Santa Claus. The most direct ancestor of the modern American Santa Claus is the Christian Saint, St. Nicholas (Miller, 77). He was the patron saint of sailors and pawnbrokers, was the fourth century Bishop of Myra (modern-day Turkey), and is reputed to have performed miracles such as raising the dead, as well as lesser charities such as tossing bags of gold through the windows of the poor (Miller, 77). Because of Martin Luther objecting to the practice of gifts being given to children in the name of Saint Nicholas, he introduced Christkindlein, a messenger of Christ, as the gift-bringer. Christkindlein through mispronunciation came to be known as Kris Kringle, who became another variant brought to the United States by protestant immigrants form northern Europe (Miller, 78). Yet the American Santa Claus characterizes three major differences from its European ancestry: 1)
Santa Claus lacks the religious associations of such gift-bearing figures Saint Nicholas, Christkindlein, and the Three Kings. 2)
Despite his mythical nature, with his North Pole home and with his many appearances on street corners, in stores and shopping malls, and in homes, Santa Claus is a more tangible character than his predecessors and counterparts. 3)
Santa Claus is a bringer of numerous and substantial gifts, not merely the fruit, nuts, and simple homemade toys...
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