In more recent years, Christmas specials tend to have multiple sponsors whose commercials appear during the airing of a special. Sponsoring a holiday special enables advertisers to encourage purchasing gifts for loved ones while viewers bask in the sentimental, non-commercial messages of the story.
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The TV special first appeared in and was based on a book of the same name written by Dr. Seuss and published in The Grinch story has entered the evolving tradition of the American Christmas. Thomas A. Seuss deftly critiques the modern commercialism of Christmas without including specific references to the religious significance of the holiday, making the story a commentary on the values of sharing, giving, and togetherness, which are Christian values that are also widely held in the larger culture.
Whatever else it may signify in the cultural life of America, Christmas is a time of mass consumption. Department stores and other commercial outlets do a disproportionate part of their annual business during the season. Consumers buy gifts for close family members and possibly a few friends as well. Nonetheless, the commercialism of Christmas seems to many to be out of place.
James G. Carrier, a scholar who has studied gift giving during the holiday season, considers gift giving to be as essential a part of contemporary Christmas as Santa, Christmas trees, and special music. He writes:. Complaints about the materialism of the American Christmas spring from [the] dual nature of the gifts given… The thing given at Christmas is a material object, usually a commodity bought in a crowded, garishly decorated store.
But it is also a vehicle of affection that expresses private sentiment within a relationship that is personal and probably familial. Complaints about materialism typically point out that we pay too much attention to the vehicle and too little to the sentiments and relationships it is supposed to express.
Thus, these complaints are one way of expressing a tension within the thing that is given. On the one hand it is a commodity purchased for money in an impersonal transaction, and on the other it is a gift given to express affection in a personal relationship. Carrier argues that Christmas shopping is the cultural ritual through which we transform mundane, lifeless commodities into personal, meaningful gifts.
He goes on to say:.
This is what makes shopping an integral part of Christmas. It is a mistake to construe Christmas in isolation, to see it only as a celebration and recreation of family and friendship. Rather, it is a celebration and recreation that needs to be seen in its socio-economic context. It is the Christmas shopping that proves to them that they can create a sphere of familial love in the face of a world of money.
Shopping is a key part of Christmas.
The role for advertising in all this is clear. It must promote shopping as well as the idea of imbuing goods with social significance. It must urge the consumer to purchase this or that gift and communicate the pleasure, significance, and human values that giving it will bring. The ad in Figure 13 promotes a utilitarian product, albeit a somewhat expensive one.
Binoculars can be useful in various ways, but when they are given as a Christmas gift, as the ad suggests, they take on greater significance. They become more than just functional binoculars; they are a gift from a loved-one. The link between the giver and the object becomes eternal. The lifeless commodity has undergone a transformation into a treasured gift. Christmas is also a time in which lessons about gender are repeated.
Advertisements in particular repeat and reinforce cultural ideas about the gender associations of particular objects. The link between children and toys provides a special opportunity to remind boys about masculine behaviors and girls about feminine ones. These associations can be found throughout the history of Christmas representations and are particularly pointed when toys come on the scene as appropriate gifts in the mids. Boys are typically linked with swords, guns, and action toys while girls are linked to dolls and other objects that signify domesticity. The image in Figure 14 depicts a middle-class family at Christmas.
One of the boys plays with a toy horse and soldier. His sister, by contrast, holds a doll in her arms. The ads in Figures 15 and 16 are quite specific in their messages about the gender appropriateness of certain toys. Girls are depicted as wanting dolls and play houses. Boys, by contrast, are linked to electric trains and outdoor camping.
Even a cursory look through contemporary magazines will show that toys continue to have strong gender links in many of the advertising images. Christmas is also gendered in another important way.
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Much of the work of shopping and preparing for Christmas, as well as the facilitation of familial sociability during the holidays, falls to women. Men and children are bystanders in comparison to the work women do at Christmas. Ads depicting Christmas scenes typically show women buying and wrapping presents, cooking and cleaning in preparation, and serving food to family and friends.
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For example, the Absolut ad in Figure 17 parodies the last minute shopper who is still trying to find the perfect gift on December 24th. The remainder of her body is replaced by Christmas packages. Semiotically, this image can be read as representing the leg work of women and the replacement of their bodies and minds by the objects they acquire. Over the years, two important mechanisms have developed for getting the message to Santa about what children want.
One is the letter that a child writes to Santa or that an adult writes on behalf of the child. The other is visiting Santa, or one of his helpers, in a department store or shopping mall. Perhaps the most famous Christmas letter ever written was published in the New York Sun in Dear Editor: I am 8 years old.
Something Something Christmas Post
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Virginia: Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias….
Not believe in Santa Claus!
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You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn?
Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in this world…. No Santa Claus?
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Thank God! A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. This letter and response have entered the folklore of Christmas. It speaks of the sentiments of Christmas and the reality of cherished hopes and beliefs. It does not talk of materialism, but rather of faith in cultural traditions and practices.