From the Archives: Christmas Humor From the 1950s

More

Three holiday satires poke fun at the materialism of the era

housekeeping-toys.jpg

A vintage Christmas catalogue advertises housekeeping toys for little girls, including an ultra-modern dollhouse and a sweeper that "really sweeps!"

"The offerings from the mail-order houses seem wilder this year than ever before," complained Charles W. Morton, a longtime Atlantic contributor, in December 1954. The catalogues of his day were filled with bizarre household gifts like the Denta-Matic, which promised to squeeze out exactly one brush-length with the push of a button. Even cleaning products like Krust-Off Oven Cleaner or Miracle Tub Caulk were being advertised as gleaming gifts that the modern housewife longed to unwrap.

Reading Morton's satire, it's easy to forget that only a decade earlier, American soldiers were celebrating Christmas in the trenches and housewives were baking fruitcakes using rationed butter and sugar. As late as 1947, nylon stockings were still in short supply and designers were saving scarce fabric by eliminating cuffs on sleeves. 

By the mid-1950s, there didn't seem to be much shortage of anything, and families were eager to flaunt what they had. An article in the same issue of The Atlantic made fun of the long-form Christmas letter that was just coming into fashion. These holiday greetings, wrote author William Copithorne, averaged 18 exclamation points per page and shared family "news" that was, in fact, barely disguised bragging. The writers dropped references to their new Lincoln Mercury cars and their children's school prizes. No detail -- from home improvements to fish catches at summer cabins -- was deemed too tedious to include. 

Alongside these two humor pieces, The Atlantic published a poem called "Epistle to All My Friends." Written by Amherst College professor Walker Gibson, it ridiculed those who pretended not to care about materialism at Christmastime:

I say the hell with that. I'll have you know
This year I want my friends to spend some dough
Not that I'm motivated much by greed,
But there are just some little things I need.
To wit: three new suits, an amphibious watch,
A trip to Europe and a case of Scotch,
A hunting lodge in Maine for weekend flings,
A twenty room cabana in Palm Springs,
A little cruiser with its little crew, 
And, please, a half a million dollars too.

Read Christmas Catalogues, From Us to You, and Epistle to All My Friends from the December 1954 issue of The Atlantic.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon About the Toys in Your Cereal Box

The story of an action figure and his reluctant sidekick, who trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Video

What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.

Video

Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."

Feature

The Future of Iced Coffee

Are artisan businesses like Blue Bottle doomed to fail when they go mainstream?

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

Just In