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Consumer Rites: The Buying & Selling of American Holidays Hardcover – September 1, 1995


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this scholarly account, Schmidt (Holy Fairs) traces how the union of commerce and religion in the celebration of U.S. holidays was established. Early Protestant reformers frowned on festive observances, and it was not until the mid-1800s that holidays became associated with feasting and gift-giving by the new culture of merchandising. Advertisers transformed the medieval celebration of St. Valentine's Day into a modern explosion of cards and candy. Commercialization of Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter soon followed. Schmidt limits his carefully researched study to Christian holidays and acknowledges that he is sympathetic to the mix of the sacred and the secular. Taking issue with critics who assail holidays as devoid of meaning, Schmidt argues that commercialization includes deeply felt religious elements and that modern celebrations were ritualized by women who welcomed an area of power in domestic life. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Honorable Mention for the 1996 Ray and Pat Browne Award for Best Book in Popular Culture

"Conceptually sophisticated, wide ranging; [Schmidt] treats Valentine's Day, Easter, and Mother's Day as well as Christmas all within a delicately balanced framework of tensions between market rationality and romantic sentiment. . . . [A] fresh and timely alternative to contemporary academic fashion."--Jackson Lears, The New Republic

"Filled with interesting facts and nascent ideas."--Fred Miller Robinson, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] richly documented, smoothly narrated, and lavishly illustrated [study] by a cultural historian who knows his stuff and tells it with panache. Consumer Rites is good history and good reading. . . . A brilliant chronicle of the American tale where domesticated remnants of Protestant religion, not nationalist identity alone, drove developments, and where capitalist expansion was in the driver's seat."--Lawrence A. Hoffman, Cross Currents

"Its that time of year again: holiday shopping, and lots of it. Ever wonder how this American tradition got started? In this enlightening book, Leigh Eric Schmidt looks at holidays in our country and how they've evolved over the past 150 years into highly commercialized events. . . . Consumer Rites is without question a true holiday gift, and it makes for fascinating reading."--Washington Post Book World

"Consumer Rites is good history and good reading. . . . a terrific story terrifically told. . . . richly documented, smoothly narrated, and lavishly illustrated by a cultural historian who knows his stuff and tells it with panache. . . . Give it as a gift next Christmas, Mother's Day or Father's Day! It's the American thing to do."--Cross Currents
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691029806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691029801
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,171,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on December 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
At the time of writing this 1995 book, Leigh Eric Schmidt was an Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Princeton University. He is also the author of books such as Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment, Holy Fairs: Scotland and the Making of American Revivalism, Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality, and others.

He writes in the Introduction, "This book is a historical explanation of how these now taken-for-granted connections in American culture between commerce and celebration were forged. It examines the evolving relationships ... between America's religious culture and its consumer culture, between holidays and the market. In a word, it is a history of that old bugbear, commercialization. The book focuses on St. Valentine's day, Christmas, Easter, and Mother's Day ... but also roams more widely across the American calendar, pausing to scrutinze other events such as New Year's, the Fourth of July, and Father's Day. It explores the widening influence of the commercial culture on the way Americans celebrate, on the gifts they exchange, on the holiday rituals and liturgies they enact."

Here are some other quotations from the book:

"Only in 1970 would major department stores such as Macy's begin to integrate their crew of Santa Clauses." (Pg.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kathy F. Cannata on December 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read this in 1997, but am just now realizing I never reviewed it.

It is beyond my imagination that anyone would not be riveted by this book. It traces the 19th and early 20th cent. evolution of a number of holidays with churchly roots that were co-opted by Hallmark and the dept. stores, often with the zealous cooperation of hapless Christians. Schmidt can tell a story with balance, accuracy, humor, and action.
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