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Consumer Rites:
The Buying and Selling of American Holidays
Leigh Eric Schmidt

Honorable Mention for the 1996 Ray and Pat Browne Award for Best Book in Popular Culture

Paperback | 1997 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691017211
384 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 101 halftones
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Chapter 1

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Slogans such as "Let's put Christ back into Christmas" or "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" hold an appeal to Christians who oppose the commercializing of events they hold sacred. However, through a close look at the rise of holidays in the United States, Leigh Schmidt show us that commercial appropriations of these occasions were as religious in form as they were secular. The rituals of America's holiday bazaar that emerged in the nineteenth century offered a luxuriant merger of the holy and the profane--a heady blend of fashion and faith, merchandising and gift-giving, profits and sentiments, all celebrations of a devout consumption. In this richly illustrated book, which captures both the blessings and ballyhoo of American holiday observances for the mid-eighteenth century through the twentieth, the author offers a reassessment of the "consumer rites" that various social critics have long decried for their spiritual emptiness and banal sentimentality.

Schmidt tells the story of how holiday celebrations were almost banished by Puritans and other religious reformers in the colonies but went on to be romanticized and reinvented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Merchants and advertisers were crucial for the reimagining of the holidays, promoting them in a grand, carnivalesque manner, which could include gargantuan fruit cakes, masked Santa Clauses, and exploding valentines.

Along the way Schmidt uses everything from diaries to manuals on church decoration and window display to show in bright detail the ways in which people have prepared for and celebrated specific holidays--such as going Christmas shopping, making love tokens, choosing Easter bonnets, sending flowers to Mom, buying ties for Dad. He demonstrates in particular how women took the lead as holiday consumers, shaping warm-hearted celebrations of home and family through their intricate engagement with the marketplace. Bringing together the history of business, religion, and gender, this book offers a fascinating cultural history of an endlessly debated marvel--the commercialization of the American holidays.


"Conceptually sophisticated, wide ranging; [Schmidt] treats Valentine's Day, Easter, and Mother's Day as well as Christmas all within a delicately balanced framework of tensions between market rationality and romantic sentiment. . . . [A] fresh and timely alternative to contemporary academic fashion."--Jackson Lears, The New Republic

"Filled with interesting facts and nascent ideas."--Fred Miller Robinson, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] richly documented, smoothly narrated, and lavishly illustrated [study] by a cultural historian who knows his stuff and tells it with panache. Consumer Rites is good history and good reading. . . . A brilliant chronicle of the American tale where domesticated remnants of Protestant religion, not nationalist identity alone, drove developments, and where capitalist expansion was in the driver's seat."--Lawrence A. Hoffman, Cross Currents

"Its that time of year again: holiday shopping, and lots of it. Ever wonder how this American tradition got started? In this enlightening book, Leigh Eric Schmidt looks at holidays in our country and how they've evolved over the past 150 years into highly commercialized events. . . . Consumer Rites is without question a true holiday gift, and it makes for fascinating reading."--Washington Post Book World

"Consumer Rites is good history and good reading. . . . a terrific story terrifically told. . . . richly documented, smoothly narrated, and lavishly illustrated by a cultural historian who knows his stuff and tells it with panache. . . . Give it as a gift next Christmas, Mother's Day or Father's Day! It's the American thing to do."--Cross Currents


"The real merit of this book lies in its complex sympathies: it is at once a major contribution to American religious history and to cultural history."--David D. Hall, Harvard University

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Hardcover published in 1995

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File created: 7/11/2017

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