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Marketing Christmas through the ages

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 24 Dec, 2014
Essential Essential topic

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

Yes, even now Christmas is being hijacked by people like me - hence the headline. And it’s this marketing exercise of Christmas that especially fascinates me.

The marketing started in 300AD when in the Rome of the Emperor Constantine (recently converted to Christianity) the celebration of Christ’s birth was made to coincide with Saturnalia. The feel- good of a great blow-out got the Christian bandwagon rolling along nicely.



This coincidence of celebrating Christ’s birth and roll-out-the barrel party time continued happily until typically the mean old sod, Mr Austerity Cromwell banned Christmas. Back to normal and a lot more when Charles 11 returned to England.

Enter the four great apostles of Christmas early in the 19th century, first Washington Irving in America and his “Old Christmas” and the virtual invention of the Christmas that we know.




Then Clement Moore - a Theology Professor whose “The Night before Christmas” was written for his children, was then picked up by the New Yorker and has become a defining Christmas idea. Dickens and Cruikshank, his illustrator, followed in 1836 and 1843 with Pickwick Papers and a Christmas Carol.




Around the same time Prince Albert, gluhwein king and Victoria’s husband brought us German Christmas - snow, sleigh bells, decorated trees and Victorian Christmas was born.

Years later the bandwagon accelerated with Coca Cola’s Christmas advertising and the resounding “ho, ho, ho”s amplified as the toy business burgeoned and Christmas feel-good films filled our media.




Christmas became big business - lasting until January 6th in most of Eastern Europe and Russia - but it’s the way marketers have shaped the event to such smiley and profitable effect that’s most striking.

Washington Irving put it like this in his efforts to create a ‘marketing’ campaign (he wouldn’t have called it that) to quell social violence brought on by the hopelessness of winter and appeal to everyone’s good nature:

"In the depth of winter, when nature lies despoiled of every charm, and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and desolation of the landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly disposed for the pleasures of the social circle. Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other's society, and are brought more closely together by dependence upon each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart; and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of living kindness, which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms; and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity".

It has something else which enthrals me. It evokes and sustains such great stories and the felicitous layering of Christian, pagan, commercial and romantic stories and myths from many different geographies. Christmas stories are like Christmas cake, mixed and rich.



The pageantry and the atmosphere of this time never fail to astonish even hardened cynics and make those two words “bah humbug!” sound wonderfully festive too.

Have great ideas, have fun and be immoderate. Happy Christmas



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