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The secret economics of Christmas adverts, unwrapped


Tradition, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriends and parts of downtown Warsaw, is rarely as old as we might prefer. That goes double for Christmas – a Pagan festival, later retooled for God, that became the Western year’s peak of pleasure and indulgence because 19th-century capitalism and civic culture gave it the space to do so.


Britons pioneered this shift. They promoted Christmas as a universal holiday, and legislated for it in the 1830s. (America followed in 1870.) They invented Christmas cards and crackers, pulled new-year gift-giving rituals forward by a week, popularised forgotten carols, created Scrooge as a punishment for dissenters and let these images and commodities circulate through another of their creations: advertising-driven mass media.

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