The Modern Christmas in America: A Cultural History of Gift Giving / Edition 1

The Modern Christmas in America: A Cultural History of Gift Giving / Edition 1

by Barbara Wood
     
 

ISBN-10: 0814792847

ISBN-13: 9780814792841

Pub. Date: 10/01/1994

Publisher: New York University Press

In days of old, Christmas was defined by the custom of exchanging simple handmade gifts. Today, it has become a multi-billion industry, synonymous with commercialism and consumption. How did this transformation occur?

In this incisive and engaging examination of how Christmas has evolved since 1880, Waits chronicles the history of the holiday, from its origin to

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Overview

In days of old, Christmas was defined by the custom of exchanging simple handmade gifts. Today, it has become a multi-billion industry, synonymous with commercialism and consumption. How did this transformation occur?

In this incisive and engaging examination of how Christmas has evolved since 1880, Waits chronicles the history of the holiday, from its origin to its current form. The book is illustrated with dozens of historical photographs and will be of interest to cultural and social historians alike.

Christmas was a relatively modest occasion in the English- speaking world, celebrated by the exchange of modest handmade gifts, until the Victorians invested the holiday with immense significance as part of a larger effort to celebrate home, family, and a mythic past of well-ordered communities. By the late 19th century, Christmas had become a major American festival. Today, it is a multi-billion dollar industry and easily the most important seasonal event of the year.

In this survey of the modern American Christmas, William Waits shows us how this holiday emerged, tracing its evolution from the days prior to 1880 when people presented one another with simple crafted presents to the turn of the century when industrialization brought with it waves of inexpensive, tawdry gimcracks. In the early twentieth century, reform-minded Americans reflecting on the new Christmas prompted a backlash against this cheapening of the Yule tradition, and the Christmas card was born. Henceforth, family members and close friends exchanged useful, costly items, while cards were sent to acquaintances and distant relatives. These reformers also persuaded retail stores to keep their regular hours of business during the holiday, rather than lengthening them, to give trade workers the opportunity to join in the celebration. They also rationalized the collection and distribution of holiday charity, resulting in the Christmas celebration we have today. Waits's book clearly illustrates that the notion that Christmas is uncontrollable is simply untrue.

An incisive and engaging history of giftgiving, The Modern Christmas in Americaalso examines the differing traditions of giftgiving to friends, employees, the poor, and among entire communities. Handsomely illustrated with dozens of historical photographs, this book is not only the perfect holiday gift but will also be of interest to any student of American history and culture.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780814792841
Publisher:
New York University Press
Publication date:
10/01/1994
Series:
American Social Experience Series
Pages:
290
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 9.00(d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1Introduction1
2Fundamental Themes: Annual Festivals and Gifts7
3The Gifts Everyone Wanted: The Rise Manufactured Gift Items16
4Gimcracks, Appliances, and Silverware: A Survey of Manufactured Gift items50
5From Gimcracks to Cards: Gift Giving between Friends70
6The Feminization of Christmas: The Expanded Role of Women in the Celebration80
7Within the Marital Bond: Gifts Between Men and Women87
8"Something for the Kid": Gifts from Parents to Children120
9The Ever Wider Horizon: Reaffirmations of Community Ties151
10The Rationalization of Charity: Gifts from the Prosperous to the Poor164
11The Rationalization of Christmas Bonuses: Gifts from Employers to Employees178
12Riches and Uncertainty: Superabundance and Retailers' Anxieties since 1940191
13Conclusion200
Notes205
Index263

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