Klaudia in the streets, especially in urban cities

Klaudia NiemczewskaCulturalPractices of Giving GiftsPrior to the 19thcentury, there were plenty of celebrations in the winter season in the month ofDecember, but they were not the same celebrations that lasted throughouthistory. In this time of the century, it was historic to celebrate thecommemoration of the birth of Christ on December 25th. What wedidn’t have prior to the 19th century though were Christmas trees,wrapped presents, Christmas stockings, candy canes, decorations, and all thesetypes of things that play such a big part of our Christmas culture today. In the early 19thcentury, Christmas time was always more or less celebrated in public. Therewere riots in the streets, especially in urban cities like New York. Christmasin a city like New Work had a completely different fashion style forcelebrating this holiday; partying and misrule was one way ofcelebration.

(Nissenbaum) In addition, in the early 19th century,children in schools demanded presents from teachers in which the studentsforced the teachers to treat the students with apples and ginger cakes. Ifthe teacher didn’t show up with treats, they would get locked out of classrooms.These following stories go to show how giving and receiving presents in theearly 19th century was not a cultural practice celebrated atChristmas time. In this time of the century, there was a lot of drinking, a lotof city or village markets where people would come together as one communityfor the holidays.

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 This cultural practiceshifted, and people started to privatize Christmas season in their own homes. Theidea of presents then became something that is in step within thisprivatization. The culture shifts from all the community out in the publicsquare, to now presents being given within the families on Christmas morning.

Inthe early 19th century, we see a little bit of evidence from HarrietBeecher Stowe, who wrote A story ofChristmas, in which she makes the character of the book very concernedabout buying presents for her friends and family. The quote goes “Christmas iscoming in a fortnight… and I have got to think up presents for everyone”..”Dear me it’s so tedious.” The character of the story recalls that when shewas ten,  “The very idea of a present wasso new” .

Not only that we have the evidence of presents becoming a norm, wealso have the rise of Christmas advertisements, and different transactions thatshow an increased focus on giving gifts.  Bythe 1870s and 1880s, giving Christmas presents has really blossomed. Accordingto HistoryToday, the getting and giving of gifts provided a means of grapplingwith jarring social change. This meant that every gift had symbolized a meaningto the person that received it. “Personal gifts mediated the fragilerelationships of an increasingly fragmented society, and charitable giftssought at least symbolic solutions to the problems of extreme economicinequality that threatened social peace and individual con- science.” (HistoryToday)By the late 19th century, it became a norm to give presents to yourfamily and close friends. As centuries passed by, the cultural practiceof giving gifts on Christmas has played a role in some of the cultural elementswe have discussed in class. One example is that gift giving changed from asacred to more of a secular practice.

When people fist started this Christmaspractice it was because of the religious meaning and symbolized something moresacred, and by the end of the 19th and even up until the 21stcentury, gifts started to symbolize something much more different. They aremore of a secular practice now. By the end of the 19th century, kids ultimatelythought about presents whenever someone would bring up Christmas. This would bethe time where Santa Claus made his first appearance to the American Christmasculture. Just like the pictures shown in class during our discussions, we see SantaClaus appear with presents that are the most important part of Christmas forthe children. The Nast images of Santa show little children praying forChristmas gifts from Santa (1884). Anotherway that the practice of gift giving has played a role in our cultural elementscan be found in the rich vs.

poor practices. In the 19th century, wehear stories of how children that were born into poor families didn’t receivepresents because of money issues. The little girl from the story says,”I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, andothers nothing at all.” (Alcott,  1945).The cultural practice of giving gifts in this scenario goes to show that giftswere also an important cultural practice during the holidays. Those girls whoweren’t receiving gifts were truly upset, while there were girls that came fromwealthy families that received all the gifts they wanted to.

     ResourcesAlcott, Alcott May. The Fireside Book of ChristmasStories.depaul.ares.atlas-sys.com/noncas/ares.dll?SessionID=D082000150R=10=10=543955.

Mercer,Marsha. “Marshamercer.com.” It’s Not Your 19th Century Christmas,Fortunately — Column of Dec. 17, 2015, 1 Jan. 1970, www.

marshamercer.com2015/12/its -not-your-19th-century-christmas.html?m=1. Restad,Penne. “Christmas in 19th Century America.” Christmas in 19th CenturyAmerica | History Today, Dec. 12ADAD,www.



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