December 25, as we all know, is the birthday of Jesus Christ, a Christian celebration in which the myth of three kings who traveled everywhere to give gifts to the “newborn king” inspires Christian tradition. modern gift. The first gifts were fruits or nuts, but as this act grew in importance, the gifts became larger and less modest and were placed under a tree.

Midwinter has been a time of festivities for millennia, but Christmas, as we know it today, has its origins in Victorian Britain. It was during the Victorian era that the idea of ​​Christmas as a family celebration, with gifts, a tree and an intimate dinner became central to this celebration. The British traditionally celebrate the birth of Christ with a religious mass. Therefore, the words “Christ” and “mass” come together to form the word Christmas.

Charles Dickens defined British Christmas with his story, A Christmas Carol, which linked Christian values ​​to the idea of ​​sharing and “festive generosity of spirit”. His book helped popularize what was already happening in Britain and is credited with spreading the traditions of the festival. His book sold out when it was first printed in 1843 and set the tone for the mid-Victorian renaissance of the Christmas holidays by reflecting and reinforcing the Dickensian vision of Christmas.

One of the earliest English folk traditions associated with this holiday is the ‘Old Santa Claus’, first found in the mid-17th century as a symbol of good humor. In the early 19th century, he was portrayed as a thin man who encouraged drinking and partying during the holiday season. But by 1874, Santa Claus had grown into a round, cheerful man wearing red and green lined dresses and holly on the head.

This early version of Santa Claus was mostly associated with the celebration of adults, but during the Victorian era, with their new focus on family, Santa Claus began to be linked with the idea of give presents. Images of Christmas have been reproduced in popular culture through the mass media of newspapers; magazines and theater. These images visually define Christmas and how it is to be celebrated.

Father Christmas in 1879, with holly wreath and wassail bowl used for the delivery of children’s gifts.
‘Fun’ (London, England), issue 763, p 256.

In the 20th century, mass advertising became commonplace. Consumer messages were now disseminated to the public through billboards, magazines, radio and, later, motion picture television. Mass publicity has allowed the slowly developing idea of ​​Christmas as a time for giving gifts to become mainstream, and ultimately, to define Christmas itself.

Businesses have realized that Christmas can be a great source of money. Seasonal advertisements began to emphasize the act of ‘giving gifts’ as an important part of the Christmas season by having Santa Claus physically showcase branded goods to a bustling consumer market. growth. The connection between this Christmas icon and consumer goods was made very evident in the advertisement, as illustrated in this advert of Newball & Mason to sell an assortment of alcoholic spirits. The ad took the fable of Santa Claus and linked it to physical brands, turning the myth into reality, something that could be touched, smelled and experienced.

In 1937, Coca Cola introduced the world to a simplified and more accessible version of Santa Claus dressed in Coca-Cola red, this time without the traditional cape. In their advertisements, he was named Santa Claus, in accordance with American tradition. Santa Claus became a personification of the brand and gave the brown liquid a personality and a face, associating the drink with one of the happiest annual Western celebrations. Coke kept repeating the same message every year in December, and the name “Santa” slowly replaced “Santa” in popular parlance in the UK as well. This led to the man in the red suit becoming the icon most associated with Christmas.

Coca Cola’s Christmas ads are still going strong.

In Britain, brands continued to express the idea reflected by Dickens that Christmas was a time to celebrate and unite family. Queen Victoria and Albert celebrated with a Christmas tree, and slowly the concept of putting gifts under a decorated tree took hold. In the 20th century, the idea of ​​Santa Claus bringing gifts and leaving them under the tree became popular, thus linking the concept of Santa Claus delivering gifts to the joy of sharing.

A 1965 tape recorder sale announcement, for example, shows a white British family opening presents on Christmas morning and records a child playing on their new drum. This image tries to convince the consumer that he can show his “love” by the act of giving gifts, an idea which still has a real echo today.

Modern Christmas advertising has evolved further to reflect our multicultural and increasingly secular societies. In Selfridges’ latest television commercial, “A Christmas for Modern Times”, a multiracial group of friends are shown celebrating the “future fantasy” of Christmas. This “chosen family” shares gifts, food and drinks, then goes dancing in a nightclub. The addition of going to nightclubs to continue the celebration of Christmas reflects increasingly new forms of joy and underscores how far the idea of ​​Christmas is now from religion.

Fortunately, the actors of the white nuclear family are now, for the most part, consigned to historic Christmas commercials. The John Lewis 2019 announcement “Excited edgar”And the Ikea #Wonderful everyday the two feature multiracial cast celebrating Christmas together. These visual representations of Christmas signal the evolution of the party from a white party to an inclusive party. Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday, but a moment to be celebrated by all.

This is, of course, something we should be grateful for – but now that it has been replaced by a conspicuous consumer religion, big business will be the happiest of all.The conversation

Carl W. Jones, Senior Lecturer, School of Media and Communication, University of Westminster.

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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