“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10)

Is the Reason for the Season
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As ceramic snowmen and garish decorations begin appearing on American store shelves in late August, it’s not uncommon to hear laments over the “commercialization of Christmas.” Professing “Christians” are great about denying the reality of what they see around them, feebly protesting that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

This claim shows a great ignorance of American history. Had the Lord Jesus Christ actually been “the reason for the season,” the Puritans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists, Mennonites, and Methodists who colonized New England would have celebrated “Christmas.” They didn’t. The sad truth is that MONEY is the reason why “Christmas” became a major commercial (not religious) holiday in 19th century America.

Money is the reason for
€hri$tma$ Tree$

There is no record of any “Christmas trees” in America before the 1830s, when one was erected in Pennsylvania as part of a show intended to raise money for a local church. (Before that time, most Americans regarded such trees as pagan.) Within 20 years of this fund-raising effort, “Christmas trees” had become popular enough in America that in 1851 farmer Mark Carr brought “two ox sleds of evergreens” to New York City and sold each one, thus creating “the Christmas tree market.”

By 1900 American businesses had begun using trees decorated with small electric lights to attract customers to their stores. Starting in New York, businesses succeeded in convincing Americans that they needed to buy evergreens every December. During the first 20 years of the 20th century, the number of Americans who erected trees at “Christmas” rose from 20 percent of the population to nearly 100 percent. So strong was the demand for these trees that during the “Great Depression” of the 1930s, when other businesses went bankrupt or experienced great financial losses, nurserymen who earlier had sold evergreens for landscaping began to make money by converting their businesses into “Christmas tree farms.”

Money is the reason for
€hri$tma$ Gift$

As one historian points out, “the rise of Christmas as a gift-giving holiday coincided with the increased availability of manufactured goods in the 19th century.” As early as the late 1700s, some retailers in Williamsburg were already running newspaper advertisements to persuade people to buy “Christmas gifts” for others. Before the war between the states, “Christmas gifts” were usually handmade; by 1867, though, gift-buying had become so popular that New York retailer Macy’s started staying open until midnight on December 24.

In 1939, when he officially designated Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November instead of the last Thursday, U.S. President Roosevelt was following the suggestion of an American retailer who wanted to ensure that American stores had a four-week period of shopping each “Christmas season.” (Retail sales would help end the depression, you understand.) To mark the start of this four-week shopping period, each year on Thanksgiving Day, Macy’s sponsors a parade that ends with an appearance by “Santa Claus” to remind watchers that it’s time to start buying “Christmas gifts.”

Today, the four-week period between Thanksgiving and “Christmas” accounts for about one-half of all the sales generated in most stores. What one writer calls “diligent marketing” has made gift-buying possibly the strongest of all American “Christmas customs.”

Money is the reason for
€hri$tma$ De€oration$

Around 1860, American retailers began to sell wreaths, holly leaves, and “mistletoe balls” as house decorations. Initially such decorations were marketed only to the wealthy, but in the spirit of consumer capitalism and free enterprise, businesses worked hard to add the poor and middle class to their client base. By 1890, even “discount” retailer F. W. Woolworth was importing and selling glass “Christmas” ornaments.

Money is the reason for
€hri$tma$ €ard$

The custom of sending cards at “Christmas” started in England in 1843 as a way to get more people to use that nation’s Public Post Office. Before 1840 only the wealthy could afford to post letters; “Christmas cards,” however, made the postal service accessible to (and “affordable” for) all people. In our own time, the U.S. Postal Service still makes a small fortune on the billions of holiday cards and gifts sent by mail each year, while Hallmark and other makers and retailers make money by selling the cards. Since 1900, even charities such as “Christmas Seals” have used the custom of “Christmas cards” as a way to raise money.

Money is the reason for
$anta €lau$
and Rudolph

For centuries the Catholic Church has used “St. Nicholas” to make a fortune. In the 11th century 47 men from Bari, Italy, went to Asia Minor, stole the supposed remains (relics) of the supposed Nicholas, and brought them home, hoping to make money off of pilgrims who come to honor the “holy saint.” (Money was even made from an annual festival honoring this act of theft.) As one historian points out, “The relics of St. Nicholas have brought wealth to everyone who has possessed them.” As a result, “St. Nicholas” came to be the “patron saint” of pawnbrokers, thieves, and pirates, all of whom invoked his aid in making money.

Even after he was remade into “Santa Claus,” Nicholas was still a money maker. In 1841 a Philadelphia retailer created the modern image of “Santa Claus” when he hired a man to dress in “Kris Kringle clothing” and climb his store’s chimney. (For more than 160 years, retailers around the world have continued to use men in “Santa Claus” costumes to generate sales and increase revenues.) “Santa’s” modern image was finalized by American business giant Coca Cola, which used Haddon Sundblom’s seasonal paintings of the fat elf (dressed in the company’s trademark red and white) to convince Americans that even in cold weather, they needed to purchase Coke.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by copywriter Robert L. May and used as an advertising draw to bring shoppers to American retailer Montgomery Ward. May’s creation brought in enough customers that Montgomery Ward sold 2.5 million Rudolph books in 1939 and another 3 million when the book was re-issued in 1946. The musical version of Rudolph’s story is in essence a “jingle” that has outlived the company it once advertised.

If you want to get caught up in the foolish festivities that so permeate the month of December, go right ahead. But please don’t blame the Lord Jesus Christ for creating all this mess. MONEY, not Jesus, is “the reason for the season.”

Daryl R. Coats
Fall 2003
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1187 Highway 529,
Taylorsville, MS 39168