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Monday, December 26, 2016

The Invention of Christmas Presents for Kids

Written by Kelly Faircloth


In a paper from the journal Icon by historian Joseph Wachelder, he argues that our modern notion of a “toy” didn’t coalesce until the turn of the nineteenth century, helped along by the 1798 handbook Practical Education by Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, which encouraged little knick-knacks for kids that could help them “exercise their senses of the imagination, their imitative and inventive power.”

Wachelder therefore combed through ads from the time to track the rise of the Christmas present:
Looking at issues of the London daily newspaper The Morning Chronicle published between 1800 and 1827, Wachelder found a steady increase in advertisements for children’s presents. In 1800 and 1801, he found no ads mentioning gifts or presents. By 1816, there were 30, mostly for children’s gifts and almost all in December or January issues of the paper. Half the ads specifically mentioned Christmas.
Something similar was happening over on this side of the pond, The Atlantic recounted in a 2015 history. Drawing on Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas, the piece says that our modern understanding of the holiday was shaped by nineteenth-century conflicts between New York City’s elites and working classes, and fears about what would happen when the rowdiness of farmers’ Christmas traditions were transported into dense, harder to control urban areas. Where once working-class people had partied in the street, according to The Atlantic, Christmas was rebooted into a cozy domestic affair. READ MORE

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