The Commercialization of Christmas


From Christmas tree farms, holiday light shows, and placing little kids on the lap of a strange bearded man, Christmas has become the most Instagrammable time of the year. See exhibits A and B below. My family at the 2021 Bentleyville USA Holiday Light Show in Duluth, MN.

Christmas is also the time of year when households across the country spend the most money, and every entrepreneur, marketer, and business, big or small, has learned how to capitalize on it. In 2021 Americans are going to spend an average of $886 on Christmas gifts and roughly $276 per child. That’s a lot of coin, especially when you consider the fact that 61% of Americans will receive a present they don’t even want, yikes! Yet, year after year we still fall into the magical blackhole of Christmas but why?


Great marketing of course!

Let’s take a trip down Candy Cane Lane with a timeline of how Christmas became the holiday we know and love today:

1840s – Christmas earns its first big nod as a commercially tied holiday aimed at young children. The element of gift-giving was not lost on businesses and the marketing ploys began. Fun Fact: Up until this time Christmas was illegal as the Puritans saw it as an excuse to drink excessively. Easy there, Uncle Frank!

1920s – Macy’s first-ever Thanksgiving Day Parade launches the holiday shopping season and puts the first commercial face to the man with the bag aka “Santa Claus”.

1930s – Mass advertising becomes popular and sophisticated marketing campaigns about the holiday as a magical, gift-giving, happy experience begins. Buy the things and your children will love you!

1930s – Coca-Cola reinforces the modern image of Santa Claus through advertising campaigns. Their image of a big, joyful man with rosy cheeks, a red suit, and black boots comes from the Clement Clake Moore poem, Twas the Night Before Christmas.

1940s – We see the rise of shopping mall Santas with the premiere of Miracle on 34th Street.

1950s – Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is released and helps further sell the idea of what a real Christmas should be like. We all still dream of a White Christmas, don’t we!?

1960s – Children become the target of advertisers for the first time ever.

1980s – Black Friday, a term that first appeared in the 60s, catches on and consumers go crazy.

2000s – Cyber Monday enters the playing field and we no longer need to leave our house for the best “deals” of the season.

2010s – Instagram Influencers hit the scene and create semi-unrealistic standards of what the holidays should be like for all consumers of content and goods.

2020s – COVID-19 takes center stage and consumers don’t leave their homes to shop. To combat, retailers change their strategy and deals appear from November 1st to December 24th.

It’s clear the phenomenon of “A Very Merry Commercialized Christmas” began well before the Target Toy Catalog ever saw the light of day. So, what can we learn from it?


AS A BUSINESS OWNER, especially in retail, it is extremely important that you capitalize on holiday shopping. Consumers are on the lookout for the best deals and studies show that many are starting to value shopping small vs. Big-Box Retailers.

  • Offer special deals outside of the typical Black Friday and Cyber Monday offerings.
  • Reward your loyal customers and show new customers the value of shopping small.
  • Create helpful digital content like custom Gift Guides and social posts featuring your products.
  • Stay true to who you are. If something doesn’t feel on-brand, don’t do it just because other businesses around you are.


AS CONSUMER, it can be hard to see through all of the clutter this time of year. For many, the holidays are stressful and they shouldn’t be. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

  • Be it a consumer good or an experience, businesses are doing their very best to sell you something, but you don’t always need to buy into it.
  • Make a list and budget. No deal or gift is worth going into debt for!
  • Do what feels good for you. If you would rather not purchase something or drive to the holiday light show, that’s okay. Your kids will still love you.
  • Remember, in the end, it truly is the thought that counts. Enjoy the time with loved ones, eat one too many cookies, and spread joy to everyone you see.