Gifting the spirit of Christmas 100 years ago

18 Dec, 2015
Gifting the spirit of Christmas 100 years ago
Gifting the story of Christmas.jpg

AUT historian Paul Moon digs into the Christmas gifting habits of Kiwis in 1915. How much has changed?

Professor Moon, a historian in AUT’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Development, explains how Christmas gifting in New Zealand in 1915 tells a general story of practicality.

“For adults, for example, among the most popular Christmas gifts were wrist watches,” says Professor Moon.

“Calendars, clocks, carving knives and forks were also popular, and for those prepared to spend a bit more, portable gramophones were highly sought after – the 1915 equivalent of iPods today.

“The latter were advertised as being ideal for picnics, a favourite summertime activity in this era.

“For children, the favourite items were dolls, stuffed animals, pop-guns, rubber balls, and clock-work toys – not so different it seems to what you see in young children’s Christmas stockings in 2015.”

While historic records show that electronic goods were fast becoming popular too in 1915, these were not popular enough to make it into household Christmas stockings.

“Some, such as ‘electric torches’, while still sold, were not really seen as Christmas presents,” says Professor Moon. “Other electronic products failed to get a foothold in the market, such as the ‘electric face massage machine’.”

But perhaps the most interesting trend, which is markedly absent 100 years later, is that of gifts being given for New Years as well as Christmas.

“One possible explanation for this is that it was much more common for people to work between 26 December and 31 December, so there was a slightly greater sense of separation between Christmas and New Year’s Day,” explains Professor Moon.

It is also worth noting that 1915 also sat in the mid-way point of the First World War and also impacted on what was purchased as ‘gifts’.

“Gift packages for soldiers serving overseas were popular,” says Moon. “These often included packets of cigarettes, chocolates and lollies. Significantly, it was various community groups who raised funds for these presents.”

A Colmar Brunton poll in 2014 revealed that while 93 per cent of the 500 respondents surveyed said still celebrated Christmas, the majority did so with an artificial Christmas tree, and said they would prefer gift cards to actual presents.

The same poll revealed that, ‘practical’ presents like fly swats, tea towels, and ironing boards for Christmas were also voted some of the worst presents Kiwis had received.

Source: Colmar Brunton 2014 Christmas Poll