The Economics of Christmas

By the late nineteenth century, the simple and essentially nonmaterialistic gift-giving tradition had begun to fade. Christmas had come face to face with commercialism, and the new message was: Buy. It wasn’t long before shopping and the idea of gifts had woven itself into the fabric of the holiday. This transition was encouraged by merchants (and everyone else in the developing economies of Europe and America) who stood to benefit from a year-end buying binge.

It was—and is—an open question whether this development did more harm than good to the holiday. Skeptics wonder whether the emphasis on buying, shopping, and getting ultimately brings more happiness or disappointment—especially to those who can afford little.

Others have found a new and robust variation on the holiday spirit in the shopping-related hustle and bustle around Christmastime. Perhaps, they argue, it is too much to expect that Christmas, having adapted itself to so many civilizations over the years, wouldn’t be affected by the modern consumer culture in which we live. In the end, it’s likely that the best way to approach Christmas gift giving is with both viewpoints in mind.

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