Christmas Traditions You Never Knew Were Commercialised

It’s almost become a cliche to say that Christmas has become too commercialised, that it’s all about buying expensive gifts for one another and John Lewis adverts, and not about the traditional messages of good-will for all men and women.

What you probably don’t realise, however, is that many of the things we typically call ‘traditional’ at christmastime are probably more commercialised than you originally thought. Don’t believe me? Well, just read these examples below…

Father Christmas’s Design

commercial christmas santa
(Yes, I know even British folk are calling him Santa nowadays, but screw it, I still prefer Father Christmas.)

I remember being told back in primary school that the fat man with the red suit and big, white beard was popularised by the Haddon Sundblom illustrations for Coca Cola. Heck, the company glorifies their ties with his design!

However, it isn’t actually that clear which brand made his design official. There are sources to say that Thomas Nast was the one who popularised the look with his illustrations of the Santa Suit for Harpers Weekly, whilst other sources claim the design came from wooden carvings that were handed out during a 1804 New York Historical Society meeting.

What is clear, though, is that the brands that have helped to influence the overall design of Father Christmas took great inspiration from the Clement Clarke Moore poem, ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (1823) (better known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

commercial christmas rudolph
Yet another tradition influenced by ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ is the names of Father Christmas’s eight reindeer. Whilst Rudolph was invented long after the poem was written, he has pretty much become synonymous with the flying reindeer in present day. And as we all know, he was first conceived in that classic Christmas song. Right? Wrong!

Back in the 1930’s, the American retail-enterprise, Montgomery Ward, handed out free colouring books to children. However, they decided to produce their own books to save on the financial costs of buying others. And thus, they hired Robert L. May to create Rudolph as the face for their own-brand colouring books. It would be another 10 years before May allowed his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to convert the words of that book into the song we all know and love.

Initially, May didn’t own the copyright to Rudolph, and didn’t receive any royalties for his work. However, Montgomery Ward handed the copyright over to him, since his wife was terminally ill, and they wanted to help him pay for debt he was in from having to pay for medical bills.

Robins on Christmas Cards

commercial christmas robin
This is probably the most surprising of all Christmas traditions, in terms of which are commercialised and which aren’t. Many of us would like to believe that the distinctively British tradition of red-breasted robins as a symbol of Christmas is because of their prevalence during the winter.

Yet the reason we see robins on cards is because they were intended to be a joke. Back in the 1800’s, British postmen wore bright-red uniforms to match the branding of The Royal Mail, which gave them the nickname ‘robins’. And, of course, it was the 19th Century when some of our most familiar traditions came about, such as Mince Pies and Christmas Trees.

Therefore, illustrators caught onto the link between robins and their delivery of cards to people’s doors every winter, and out the robins on the front of Christmas Cards as a homage to the men who made card-giving possible. Thankfully, the tradition still lives on today, in large part due to the Royal Mail never losing its distinctive shade of red.

What about you? Do you think there are any Christmas traditions which are surprisingly commercial when you look into their origins? If so, let me know in the comment section below!

And regardless, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Why I Love ‘Design Swansea’ Meet-Ups

I was absolutely gutted last week when I missed a‘Design Swansea’ meet-up for the first time. Ever since I first learnt about them, I’ve attended every single month. It’s just a shame that the date of this months clashed with pre-booked events.

So, to make up for it, I thought this’d be a good time to explain why I love going to these meet-ups. Furthermore, it might be nice to give you, my readers, an insight into why going to any sort of meet-up is worth the journey.

I Always Learn Something New.

Every time I attend, I always make sure to bring something I can write on. There are so many new things I can learn, and perhaps even research into further, I just need something to get it all down on. I find it hard to think of a presentation I’ve seen which I didn’t find to be worth listening to in one way or another, which shows you just how intriguing they are.

After all, my blog post before this one was actually inspired by a statistic that was mentioned in one the talks I listened to. He might have talked at the speed of lightning, but, hey, he’s a highly enjoyable character, and it allows me to practice my short-hand!

I Can Get Some Free Advice.

Nobody is perfect at their profession. Even those who are most dedicated to their work can either make a mistake or just not know where to go. So, it only makes sense, for when someeone in a profession like mine gets stuck, to turn to someone I can trust for advice.

These meet-ups are fantastic places for that. I was struggling one time to get a piece of HTML right, and after a short conversation with Gareth Evans (who I believe also designed the meet-up logo), I asked him if he could think of where the problem was from the screenshot I showed him. Kindly, he offered me some advice as to what the correct code to enter was. If I didn’t meet him at this meet up, I’d still be struggling right now.

I Can Get Away from the Computer.

This isn’t just a concern for graphic designers, as at least half of all jobs now requite some sort of computer work. And even if you’re on that computer doing a job you enjoy, it’s hardly ideal to be stuck in front of a screen, day in and day out, for the rest of your life.

That’s why it’s nice to have an event for us designers to go to where we can break the deadly cycle and actually interact with others. We can talk about how we’re doing in life, and as mentioned earlier, we can bounce both advice, and opinions, off one another.

It Allows for a Friendly Rivalry.

Seeing as the majority of us are either freelancers or working for rival companies, it can be easy for us to start bearing grudges against one another. After all, business is based on competition. With that said, it’s always wise to avoid making enemies as much as possible, since the majority of job opportunities come from those we know.

That’s why it’s good to have an environment were we can interact like this, because it shows that we’re comfortable with being where we are and not fussed as to whether we’re better or worse than any of our competitors. Nobody goes to these meet-ups just to wine and moan, we all go to to just relax and talk about the jobs we love doing.

I Can Be Myself.

I know it’s a cliched thing to say, but I can really be myself. These meet-ups are far less restrained than an office would be, not requiring me to conform to a dress code or work to a deadline. Plus, I don’t just have to talk about graphic things. The first day I ever went there, I spent a whole hour just talking to Gemma Williams about what kind of films we enjoyed.

And why is it good to be myself at a place like this? Because by showing the kind of person I am, it helps me to befriend those who share the same love for the design industry that I have.

And A Bonus… Free Pizza!

Hey, you can’t really go wrong with that!