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
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
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
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!