These activities are intended to banish anxiety, to enhance the present, and to secure the future (Barnett 1954, pp.129- 130)." Despite the thoroughness of Barnett's inquiry and the insights it provided on the ritual aspects of Christmas, three decades of rapid social change have now passed since Barnett's data were gathered.
One very conspicuous aspect of the Christmas festival is its emphasis upon gift-giving and exchange processes of interest both to consumer (cf, Belk 1979; Brinberg & Wood 1984; Sherry 1983) and marketing (cf, Bagozzi 1974; Hirschman 1987) researchers.
Second, Christmas is a festival celebrating sensory pleasure -- the holiday foods and feasts, punch and eggnog, bright decorations, cheering music, and the scent of evergreens [At least in northern climes.] (cf, Hirschman and Holbrook 1982; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982).
Six recent social science studies may Provide more current insights on the meaning of Christmas and consumption.
The first of these, "The Christmas Potlatch..." (Moschetti 1979), examined the asymmetries of Christmas gift giving between different 'classes' of consumers, for instance, the marked tendency of parents to give greater quantities of gifts to their children, than vice versa.
In his view, Christmas had come to reflect many deep currents of the American value system and national character.
Barnett concludes that the American Christmas had acquired a seasonal cult status involving participation by the majority of the population.Men gave most of the appliances and sports equipment.Females were disproportionately active gift givers. Alone or jointly, they gave 84 percent of all the gifts and received only 61 percent.Moschetti's conjectures, though intriguing, were based primarily on speculation and ignored other plausible explanations for the asymmetries he observed, for example, altruism, symbolization of inter-personal bonding, and self-effacement, among others.In contrast to the speculative nature of Moschetti's (1979) paper, are three articles by Caplow and his associate (Caplow 1982; Caplow 1984; Caplow and Williamson 1980) based upon ethnographic data gathered during the Middletown III Project.Caplow also found that money gifts were common from employers to employees ...Small money gifts are conventionally given at Christmas to newsboys, postmen, delivery men and other persons of relatively low status... 386)", but no reverse instances were found, conforming to Moschetti's thesis of gift asymmetry and relative social empowerment.Further, it is rich in both consumption symbolism and mythology (Rook 1986; Levy 1981); a time when many forms of sacred and secular iconography are blended together into a complex, evocative social text (cf, Mick 1986).Thus, by studying the meaning of Christmas, we may learn much not only about consumption, but about the overlap and interplay of many current consumption theories, as well.The religious emblems of the festival include: "the manger with its surrounding animals, the star of Bethelem, the shepherds and their flocks, and the three kings bearing gifts (Caplow and Williamson 1980, pp.224- 225)." In a second paper based upon the Middletown III data, Caplow (1982) investigated the pattern of gift giving during the Christmas season.