The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part I

Between the rollout of the Christmas season before Halloween this year, the recurrent and surreal Black Friday Walmart stampedes, and the infuriating conversion of my favorite satellite radio station (“40s at 4”) into holiday Musak 24/7, I’m well past ready by now for a break from the insanity! So…how about joining me in a look at some images of kinder, gentler marketing (for better stuff, too) from Christmases past?

One trend I’ve noticed while thumbing through the November and December issues of vintage magazines is that a strong economy tends to coincide with a pile up of Christmas ads for extravagant items. But…that wasn’t always the case.

For instance, though the Gilded Age was well underway by the publication of the December 1884 Peterson’s Lady’s Magazine, the gentle businessfolk of the day appear not to have see Christmas as a golden goose. There is ample Christmas spirit in the issue (in the form of Christmas-themed illustrations, stories, poems, and “how to” articles), and the magazine even provided a colored tear out of “d’oyley” patterns (featuring plums, blackberries, strawberries, and cherries) as a Christmas gift to its readers:

Here’s a lovely engraving from the issue entitled “Christmas Roses”:

The issue includes an article with helpful suggestions for festive methods of giftgiving (in a stocking “a la Santa Claus”, under a “magic” aka Xmas tree, or in a “ship” made with nursery chairs, brown paper, and poles), as well as one on seasonal decor ideas (bulrushes make a nice alternative to mistletoe, and a home version of “artificial frost” can be made with white glass bottles broken under the garden roller)

But virtually the only Christmas ad in the publication is for greeting cards!

So… Christmas as heavy duty marketing onslaught seems to be a 20th century creation.  Stay tuned for my next post for more on its evolution!

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