The Surprising History of Christmas Gifts

Christmas Eve, 1913. For months, newspapers have been trumpeting an urgent message: Do your Christmas shopping early. It would be easy to assume this was the work of greedy department stores and slick ad companies. But it wasn’t – at least not at first. It started as the rallying cry of a labor reformer who was striving to improve the lives of retail workers. Ever since, Americans have been wrestling over the values at the heart of holiday shopping. But even the most earnest efforts at reform have backfired, time and again. How did Christmas gifts become a thing in the first place? And what were some of the spirited attempts to make the holiday shopping season merry for all?

Special thanks to our guests: Jennifer Le Zotte, professor of history and material culture at the University of North Carolina - Wilmington; Ellen Litwicki, professor emerita at the State University of New York at Fredonia; and Paul Ringel, professor of history at High Point University and author of Commercializing Childhood.

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