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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
As soon as the weather turns cold, countless commercial, domestic, and cultural landscapes across the United States begin their collective metamorphosis into Christmas wonderlands. Christmas is such a force that, not surprisingly, it has received considerable scholarly attention. Numerous historians have traced the evolution of Christmas from a pre-Christian pagan winter festival to a staid Victorian domestic holiday, citing the latter period as the final stage of its development. Christmases since the Victorian Era, they argue, have not deviated significantly enough to warrant further analysis. Others have recognized the uniqueness of Christmas’s twentieth-century form but have not paid sufficient attention to its ever-evolving function. Building upon the valuable work of these and many other historians, this essay outlines the fundamental functions of the Christmas holiday for middle-class white Americans between 1945 and 1950. What did Christmas mean to them, and what domestic practices were deployed to honor that meaning?
Christmas was, indeed, a domestic holiday by the end of World War II; that quality had not changed since the turn of the century. It was also a holiday for which female homemakers were largely responsible. Homemaking magazines enjoyed wide circulation at midcentury and provided instructions for fashionable holiday observance as well as a forum for discussion of Christmas’s role within family life. December issues of Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Better Homes and Gardens published between 1945 and 1950 form the source base for this investigation, and they yield insight into the uses of Christmas after World War II. Christmas fulfilled three fundamental functions: it renewed community goodwill; reconnected celebrants with the past, and offered a chance to infantilize children. Each of these functions held special significance after World War II, a time when goodwill seemed lacking, the past was appealing, and childish innocence was treasured.
This essay argues that the meaning of Christmas is in flux and that examining the fashions and public discussion of Christmas gives access to the holiday’s deeper meanings. Future studies may track Christmas’s continued evolution into later decades or to compare the function of Christmas within different American communities.
Blackmon, Ellen D., "We need a little Christmas: The shape and significance of Christmas in America, 1945-1950" (2016). Masters Theses. 107.