With electricity came the Christmas sale
Remember when the Christmas season began the day after Thanksgiving?
I can still see Dad, his tummy full of turkey and stuffing, reaching high into the closet and pulling down boxes of Christmas decorations.
For Dad, there was a time for everything, and the time for Christmas was the day after Thanksgiving, and not one day before.
Those were the days when it was pretty rare to see even a garland or two in a department store before Turkey Day. Most merchants, like us, had the patience to wait.
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the urging of retailers, proclaimed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated one week earlier than normal. Traditionally the holiday had always fallen on the last Thursday of November, which meant in 1939 there would have been only 24 shopping days before Christmas.
FDR hoped to spur the economy out of the Great Depression with an extra week of Christmas shopping, but what he actually spurred was an angry uprising of Americans who didn’t like their traditions fiddled with.
Everyone’s calendar was wrong. Schools had to reschedule holidays and football games. Then there were those who said the president had no legal or moral right to make the change. The mayor of Atlantic City went so far as to sarcastically rename the holiday “Franksgiving.”
Eventually, a joint resolution in Congress set the fourth Thursday in November as the official Thanksgiving Day.
Even so, over the last few decades, we’ve watched Christmas begin to appear earlier and earlier in the year. We used to joke about Christmas decorations in department stores before Thanksgiving. Now we’re able to pick up a string of colorful Christmas lights days before we can even find a Halloween pumpkin.
Christmas in the Rogue Valley during the 1800s was simple and unpretentious; muddy streets and a few hand-written signs in shop windows. There were no twinkling red and green street lights or even a community Christmas tree. It was a time when merchants such as A.A. Davis, the “Flour King of the Valley,” delivered a sack of his best flour to every needy family in town.
Schools put on Christmas plays, and churches gathered their members together in religious services, but decorations outside of the home were few and far between. The days before Christmas were a time to stay home, in the warmth and comfort of family and friends.
On Christmas morning, a few simple gifts might be exchanged around a candle-lit tree, and then it was off to church, wearing those special “go to meeting” clothes.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, things began to change. Electricity came to the Rogue Valley, inspiring a few merchants to place a colored light or two in their windows to highlight a new phenomenon — the Christmas sale.
“Santa Claus has unloaded his bag at our store,” said George Webb, owner of an emporium he called The Racket Store. In Ashland, the holiday merchandise was a bit heavier.
“What is more appropriate for Christmas than a piano or an organ to give your wife or daughter?” asked Howard Coss, of Coss Piano House.
Tinsel and flashing lights began to appear all over town, and each succeeding year brought more lights, more Santas and more fun. We were well on our way to Christmas in October and enjoying every minute of it.
May this Christmas bring to you and yours the spirit of childhood’s happy laughter.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at email@example.com or WilliamMMiller.com.