Without capitalism there'd be no Christmas

The holiday and commerce have grown hand in hand...

"Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now," Margaret Deland wrote in Harper's Bazaar in 1904, "There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and, most of all, there was less loading up with trash." Sound familiar?

The commercialisation of Christmas is a product of a mix of migration, urbanisation, and opportunism.

Modern Christmas began as a movement in upper-class US homes, as Bloomberg puts it, "wives and mothers had the leisure to embroider the celebratory rituals of home life" preparing the house for Christmas in the depths of winter with new-found leisure time. They appropriated a mix of European traditions like hanging socks by the fire and putting evergreen Christmas trees in their parlors.

The trees are said to come from pagan roots as the evergreen plants came to symbolise life during the darkest time of the year. The solstice festivals marked a turning point and meant better weather was on the way - these trees were included in Celtic solstice rituals. Many prominent early European civilizations passed the darkest days with boisterous festivals.

The humble Christmas tree began as an 16th century German tradition - they put trees in their houses and decorated them with candles. This practice carried over to the US but faced opposition.

Puritans disapproved of the festivities, labeling them a "pagan mockery." Before then Oliver Cromwell preached against "heathen traditions" of tree-dressing, singing, and general merriment as they were undermining the "sacred event" of the birth of Christ.

In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts even bought in a law banning excessive celebration on December 25th (beyond the attending of church services).

But the tide soon turned, as commerce boomed entrepreneurial-minded folk saw that there was money to be made out of the holiday.

The birth of mass media helped the holiday to grow.

In 1846 the British royals - Queen Victoria and Prince Albert - were sketched by a decorated Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News - this led to new lease of life for the tradition as it became fashionable across Britain and the US.

The 1846 Illustrated London News sketch

Soon foresters were capitalising by cutting down their evergreens in November and selling them in urban centres.

The publishing of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," by penny presses in the US in the 1820s was instrumental in the popularisation of the modern version of St Nicolas (that's the one that starts, "It was the night before Christmas").

Soon magazines and newspapers were publishing stories covering decoration ideas and Christmas dinner tips.

By the 1880s departments stores had latched on to the newly refashioned holiday - even churches saw an opportunity to boost their coffers and began selling trinkets and poinsettias.

Meanwhile, Louis Prang, a German immigrant to the US employed hundreds of young women illustrating Christmas cards and modern Christmas was in full-flight.

Between 1863 and 1886 Thomas Nast's engravings in Harper's Bazaar stated to give a body to Mr Clause and by 1890 he was starting to appear in US department stores.

This image was later refined by Coca Cola's Christmas ads in the 1930s.