Sample text for Consumer rites : the buying & selling of American holidays / Leigh Eric Schmidt.

Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog

Copyrighted sample text provided by the publisher and used with permission. May be incomplete or contain other coding.


Consumer Rites:
The Buying and Selling of American Holidays

Leigh Eric Schmidt


Time is Money

In FEBRUARY 1900 one of the nation's leading trade papers, the Dry Goods Chronicle, set out the modern vision of the commercial possibilities of holidays. "Easter, in common with the other great festivals of the year," the trade journal related, "has already been recognized as a basis of trade attraction, and, while it commemorates an event which is sacred to many, yet there is no legitimate reason why it should not also be made an occasion for legitimate merchandizing." As diligently as Christian pilgrims absorbed in the preparatory disciplines of Lent, modern merchants were to ready themselves for the great feast. "Plan for it in your store, look far enough ahead, so that your special sale or window display need not be hurried.... Make much of these things. They are the life and stimulus of trade." Two months later the Dry Goods Chronicle further generalized the commercial interest in such festivals: "Never let a holiday ... escape your attention, provided it is capable of making your store better known or increasing the value of its merchandise." The modern, up-to-date businessperson realized the economic potential in holidays, exploited them through sales and advertising, and took the lead in promoting them. Whether the occasion was Easter or the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving or Memorial Day, "wide-awake" retailers were to conjure up "the spirit of hearty celebration" for the purposes of merchandising and consumption.

Envisioning holidays in this way represented a striking transformation of festival--a compelling linkage of religious, civic, and folk celebration to modern forms of display and retailing. For the Dry Goods Chronicle and the great company of American retailers it represented, Easter, like Christmas, was one more trick of the trade, one more occasion of exhibit a mastery of merchandising techniques. This brazenly commercial conception of festival on the part of modern merchants needs to be situated within the context of long-standing debates in Western culture about the religious and economic significance of holidays. In some ways, the modern perspective looked backward to the traditional merger of fair and festival in popular religion--that is, to a world of hawkers and vendors who provisioned pilgrims and who magically turned holy days into alluring bazaars and shrines into open-air marts. As John Bunyan remarked of the mythic Vanity Fair in Pilgrim's Progress, it was "no new-erected business, but a thing of ancient standing." Offering all sorts of merchandise, delights, and amusements, the "lusty fair" had been set up in that place--by Beelzebub, Bunyan declared--precisely because of all the Christian pilgrims passing through on their journey. If "ancient" in their fair- like hybridity of festival and marketplace, the modern retailer's holiday dreams also represented a distinctly new commercial fantasy. The merchandising vision of the Dry Goods Chronicle (and its various precursors and confederates) sharply diverged from much of the received wisdom of Protestantism and the Enlightenment about the social and economic drain of extensive holiday observance. Between the late eighteenth century and the early twentieth, American merchants fashioned a new economy of celebration out of a potpourri of romantic, genteel, consumerist, domestic, religious, and civic sensibilities.


Jacques Le Goff, writing of time and work in the Middle Ages, observed that "against the merchant's time, the Church sets up its own time, which is supposed to belong to God alone and which cannot be an object of lucre." In theory and in ideal, "the time of business" and "the time of salvation" were in medieval Christianity counterpoised worlds. Christian worship envisioned a time apart, a time distinct from worldly business, a time of the soul; it created its own calendar, rhythms, and cycles. Sundays and other holy days were, by theological definition, separate from workaday time. As a sixteenth-century Catholic bishop instructed, on holy days people "must utterly withdraw themselves from all worldly and fleshly business and occupations, and houses of games and plays, specially from all sin, and entirely and wholy employ themselves to ghostly works behovable for man's soul." Carefully differentiated from the time of business, labor, trade, court, and government, the liturgical time of the church was intended to point believers to the transcendent timelessness of God in Christ, the realm of the unchanging and everlasting in a world of flux and contingency. The seasons and feasts of the church year reenacted the sacred history of Christianity through devotion to the saints and the Virgin Mary and through the ritual representation of Jesus' life and ministry. The Christian year moved from the Savior's advent and incarnation through his death and resurrection to his ascension and his sending of the Holy Spirit, cycling back again to his advent and the anticipation of history's culmination in Christ's return to judge the quick and the dead.

Those were the familiar theological and liturgical ideals. In practice, the drawing of a sharp line around Sundays and holy days in order to insulate them from economic pursuits and to ensure their solemnity was invariably hard to achieve, and neat boundaries between the sacred and the profane was in the quotidian world of lived religion hard to come by. When Constantine took the momentous step in the early fourth century of instituting Sunday observance in the Roman Empire, the edict created a day of rest in the cities, halting urban commerce and government, but it exempted outright the countryside and those engaged in agricultural labor. Likewise the medieval, church found it expedient to allow various exemptions for holiday labor, and the rules were of necessity quite detailed. In matters of exigency and commonweal, such as the repair of bridges and dikes, the building of fortifications, and the harvesting of crops threatened by storm, labor on holy days was permitted. In some cases, buying and selling were allowed, even encouraged, this included, for example, the vending of candles for religious devotions, souvenirs for pilgrims, and medicines for the ill. Small domestic chores tended to be countenanced, and religious work, such as helping the poor or showing hospitality to strangers, was wholly meritorious. The very detail of the official distinctions and exemption suggested how complex the negotiations were between the church time and more-mundane times. Between church holy days and economic activities always ran a border that allowed multiple crossings.

What blurred the boundary more than official qualifications were the rich, festive practices of the popular marketplace. Fairs, markets, and amusements regularly cropped up on Sundays and on other important feast days, sometimes competing with divine worship in frank disregard of ecclesiastical admonitions, often simply complementing church life with a dense play of trade and diversion. As the anthropologist Alessandro Falassi points out, across Europe the etymologies of the terms for fair and festival crisscross one another; indeed, the Latin feria, a word originally denoting abstinence from work for religious observance, was transmogrified into "a term for market and exposition of commercial produce" in Spanish. Portuguese, Italian, Old French, and Old English. Time and again, the confluence of people for church festivals provided an ideal occasion for haggling and trade, and often wares were peddled in the churchyard or even at the church door. As one fourteenth-century French writer lamented:

in many districts of the kingdom of France there has grown up an irreligious custom, may rather an abominable abuse, namely that on Sundays and the other important festivals of the year, dedicated to the Majesty of the Most High, when Christian people should cease from servile work, come to church, spend their time in divine service, and receive the food of the Word of God, which they sorely need, from prelates and other authorized preachers--at such times they hold markets and fairs, pleas and assizes.... Whence it comes to pass that on those holy days on which God ought to be worshipped above all, the devil is worshipped.

In some sense, medieval and early modern peddlers, victualers, and innkeepers long grasped what modern merchants were to discover for their own purposes in the nineteenth century: Holidays and festivals were superb commercial opportunities. As John Bunyan well knew, the predilection for turning holy days into market days and for transforming places of pilgrimage into festive marts had ancient roots in popular Christianity. Equally deep-rooted were official critiques of that predilection.

That hawkers at local fairs and festivals perhaps prefigure the holiday mass markets of an Adam Gimbel or a Joyce Hall may not be so unlikely a historical leap as it first seems. The chapman has drilled into recent studies of consumption as an important transitional figure in the commercial transformation of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America (Gimbel and Hall are exemplars in this regard; both started as peddlers on their way to becoming corporate ritans). Pushing at the geographical bounds of the market, the peddler was the wayfaring counterpart to the itinerant preacher--the latter expanding the market for evangelical Christianity, the former for consumer goods. The itinerant evangelist helped democratize religion, the roving chapman consumption. The two figures, peddler and preacher, converged at camp meetings, those great feast days of American evangelicalism. The prevalence of hucksters around the edges of the gatherings, proffering their wares and diverting people from the revivalist's message of salvation, was a common complaint and even, in some cases, a matter of legal regulation. To weary pilgrims and camp-following sinners, hawkers offered food, liquor, patent medicines, books, ballads, shoe polish, and daguerreotypes, or even such services as shaves, haircuts, and tooth pulling. As one revival-meeting veteran from the 1840s complained, "I have myself seen as many as fourteen huckster wagons at one camp meeting, and perhaps one-fourth as many boys, and lads, and young men, and even middle-aged, and old men about them, as were on the camp ground to attend religious service.

Other convergences of fair and festival were evident in the American landscape. For example, in Albany, New York, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Pinkster, the Dutch Whitsuntide, was transformed into a slave-led street celebration, replete with the temporary booths and stalls of hawkers, who vended various spirituous liquors, meats, and cakes, among other goods. Likewise, in nineteenth-century New Orleans, the festive marketplace" of Bakhlimb carnival was reinvented and made indigenous; masked revelers and latter-day barkers jostled in a Rabelaisian world of inversion, mixture, and monstrosity. In a parallel vein, during the Jewish feast of Sukkot, peddlers with their pushcarts crowded the streets of the East Side in turn-of-the-century New York: "At these holy days," a writer for the Independent noted in 1908, the number of the carts increases marvelously. Every conceivable plan is adopted to display goods." The persistent presence of peddlers at times of festival was given visual form in the illustration of a Christmas market in Harper's Bazaar in 1884. Hawkers, along with the women and children who admire their trinkets, dominate the street scene. As these Christmas chapmen suggest, the entrepreneurial cultivation of religious festivals was a familiar, even hoary, pursuit. In bustling scenes of booths, stalls, packs, and carts, peddlers trafficked in the marvelous and the mundane, in charms and aphrodisiacs, in the spirits and souvenirs of festival. From the hawkers of valentines to the street vendors of Easter flowers to that archetypal peddler, Santa Claus, the new commodities of American holidays would find powerful agents in these colporteurs of celebration.

In the nineteenth-century United States, as in early modern Europe, festival crossed easily into fair. The modern conjunctions of holy day and holiday, festival and market, have important roots in these ancient blendings and jumblings. The visionaries of the modern consumer culture--from P.T. Barnum to R. H. Macy--mastered the exotic excitements of the fair, packaging and refining them for middle-class consumers. The retailing of modern celebrations continually built on this antecedent peddling of festivity. With its carnivalesque edges, the festive marketplace of the premodern world lingered in various guises, always providing a powerful repertory for appropriation and refashioning.


The selling of American holidays represented far more than the simple extension of age-old fairs and markets, the predictable outgrowth of the venerable folkways of peddlers and chapmen. In many ways, the modern entrepreneurial embrace or holidays was discontinuous with what had gone before, and this was not just a matter of degree or magnitude. Instead, the shilt suggested a reevaluation of the basic economic and religious convictions that underpinned the advance of industrialization and modernity. In the face of the economic and industrial rationalization that transformed early modern Europe and America, holidays looked decidedly backward. The great round of saints' days, the festivals of the Virgin, the processions of Corpus Christi, the extended holiday seasons of Christmas and Easter, the convivial frolics of church ales and harvests, and the topsy-turvy energies of the Feast of Fools and Mardi Gras--all such festivities were increasingly viewed as terrible impediments to work discipline and economic growth, clear occasions for idleness, dissipation, and immorality. The sooner such festivals and holy days were brought under control and reduced in number, the better for commerce, civic prosperity, and genuine piety.

This line of thought, which proved highly influential in early America, had various sources. Among the most important was Protestant Sabbatarianism. Protestants everywhere had sought to streamline the medieval calendar and in reduce to varying degrees the great number of Catholic holy days, when potentially took up more than half the year. Luther, though willing to recognize more holy days than many subsequent Protestant reformers, pointed the ways "With our present abuses of drinking, gambling, idling, and all manner of sin,." he concluded, "we vex God more on holy days than on others.... Besides these spiritual evils, these saints' days inflict bodily injury on the common man in two ways: he loses a days work and he spends more than usual, besides weakening his body and making himself unfit for labor, as we see every day." Such sentiments became an essential plank in the Protestant platform. An English reformer, John Northbrooke, remarked in 1577 that the pope, "not God in his word," had appointed holy days in order "to traine up the people in ignorance and ydlenesse, whereby halfe of the year, and more, was overpassed (by their ydle holy-dayes) in loytering and vaine pastimes, etc., in restrayning men from their handy labors and occupations." With the floodgates of reform lifted in the sixteenth century, holidays were a consistent local point for criticism and conflict as Protestants worked out new versions of time, celebration, worship, and labor. Nowhere would the "unreadable of Protestant opinion and the strenuous vigor of Sabbatarianism be more fully displayed than in early America.

In Sabbatarian ardor New England set a mean standard. The streamlined calendar of the Puritans was a model of liturgical austerity, spiritual discipline, and theological rigor. Firm in their biblical conviction that six days thou shalt labor, the Puritans focused their church year on the Sabbath. Only occasionally would this weekly round of labor and devotion be broken with special days of fasting and thanksgiving. Civic and religious solemnities gradually emerged in election days, militia musters, public executions, and the Harvard commencement, but the dominant rhythm of the Puritan calendar remained the weekly cycle of the Sabbath. The festivities of Christmas. Easter, and Whitsuntide were all rejected, as were other popular occasions such as midsummer bonfires on the eve of the feast of St. John the Baptist or perambulations of the parish during Rogationtide, the week before the feast of the Ascension. In a notorious incident in Massachusetts in 1627, the old English customs of May Day confronted the calendrical seventy of Puritanism. With an eighty-foot-high Maypole topped with deer antlers and with the concomitant dancing, drinking, and singing. Thomas Morton and his fellow "Madd Bacchinalians" at Merrymount outraged the settlers at Plymouth. William Bradford expressed his disdain in a pun, attacking "this idle or idoll May polle," which the devout soon vanquished." The play on words raptured Puritan opposition to popular holidays and festivals" They encouraged both idolatry and idleness. They were both religious and social evils.

The Puritans, in their assault on the traditional calendar, showed their contempt for Catholic and Anglican holy days by profaning them. They toiled in their fields or shops; they bought and sold; they recognized no distinction between these days and any other times of labor, they desacralized them by secularizing them. But these studied acts of profanation did not mean that the Puritans had abandoned the church's traditional concern with safeguarding holy time. Instead they focused that concern with renewed intensity on the Sabbath and on occasional days of fasting and thanksgiving. The New England divine Thomas Shepard insisted that on the Sabbath "we are to abstain from all servile work," so that "having no work of our own to mind or do, we might be wholly taken up with God's work." Worldly thoughts and labors--"the noise and crowd of all worldly occasions and things"--were to give way to devotional absorption in prayer, meditation, self-examination, familial catechesis, and public worship. Issues of profit and gain, occasions of market and trade, were sharply divided from holy time. The Puritans' demarcation of the church's time from the merchant's time was scrupulous and exacting, but this line no longer extended to saints' days and other holy days: People were not only free to labor at these times, they were positively expected to keep their shops open, to plow their fields, and to stay at their regular employments.

The liturgical razor of plainness, simplicity, and discipline was whetted not only in New England; it was sharpened to similarly acute form among Baptists, Presbyterians, and various other Sabbatarians in one settlement after another throughout the colonies. For their part, Quakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere went even further, not only rejecting the whole of the Christian year, but questioning the notion of any and all holy time, including days of fasting and thanksgiving and even the Sabbath itself. To underline their icono- clastic cleansing of the calendar, the Quakers replaced all the "pagan" names of the days and months Sunday, Monday, January, February, and so on--with simple numerical references. Theirs was the temporal equivalent of a blank slate on which one could inscribe a whole new mapping of Christian time. With the Quakers the Protestant dictum on the liberty of the Christian was pushed perhaps to its logical conclusion: Ideally there were to be no guiding forms for worship, no sacraments, no special times or days whatsoever; each Christian was to follow the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit. Yet despite their disagreements with other Protestants over how clean-swept the calendar should be. Quakers were in accord with Puritans and other Sabbatarians on the larger point. They, too, were to concentrate on redeeming time, on the disciplined use of their resources, rather than squandering time, money, and their souls on idolatrous holy days and popular celebration

There were always various dissenters to these grand projects of calendrical purification. Colonial Anglicans, for example, tried to preserve their Old World via media between Puritan Sabbatarianism and the Roman Catholic calendar, but this often proved difficult to achieve. A report from Virginia in 1719 noted that the unsettled conditions made holiday observance burdensome and impractical. Hard-pressed to subsist, colonists reportedly kept "no Holydays, except those of Christmas day and good Friday, being unwilling to loose their dayly labour." Even those communions that defended the traditional church year often felt the sharp pinch of austerity. Lutherans, Moravians, and the small Anglo-Catholic presence in Maryland added to the calendrical diversity of the colonies, holding off the levelers from complete triumph. Still, those hoping to truncate traditional festivals and holidays clearly had the upper hand. Sabbatarianism was the regnant religious perspective in the colonies.

The Enlightenment gave a new turn to the assault on popular holidays and festivals. Where Protestant reformers asked in zealous conviction what configuration of time conformed to the truth made manifest in Christ and revealed in Scripture, Enlightenment rationalists made the question one of the simple economic calculation: What configuration of Christian time was best for business, commerce, and civic prosperity? The Puritans had formulated a view of time based fundamentally on theological conviction and Biblical foundation that then carried economic consequences. Enlightenment thinkers increasingly bypassed theological and scriptural concerns and concentrated on the social, ethical, and economic implications of festival and holy day. Suggestive of this shift was Montesquieu's laconic conclusion in his Spirit of Laws (1748): "In a country supported by commerce, the number of festivals ought to be relative to this very commerce" If economic demands required "the suppression of festivals," then religion should "unreadable those requirements. Just as Enlightenment thinkers subjected Christian beliefs about eternal rewards and punishments to the gauge of social utility, so too Christian worship and holy days were measured in terms of civic welfare.

The economic argument against holidays was given extensive formulation and calculation in the thought of English mercantilists. Exemplifying this nationalistic line of thought, John Pollexfen in his Discourse of Trade (1697) gave hard specificity to the economic drawbacks of holiday observance in a mode of computation that became a staple of Enlightenment critics: "Whether the many Holydayes kept now be not a great load upon the Nation, may be Consider'd; for if but 2 Millions of working people at 6d. per day comes to 50000[pounds]. which upon a due Inquiry from from whence our Riches must arise, will appear to be so much Lost to the Nation, by every Holyday that is kept." Benjamin Franklin's subsequent maxim, offered in Poor Richards's Almanach, crystallized the creed that was behind all such calculations: Tradespeople were always to remember that "Time is Money." "He that is a prodigal of his Hours," Franklin insisted, "is, in Effect, a Squanderer of Money." Such wisdom cut against festivals and holidays at every turn. The way to wealth and prosperity was to rationalize time, to save it and spend it wisely, to make good use of it. The time of the merchant and the shopkeeper, the time of the wage laborer and the manager, the time of the factory and the clock, and eventually the standardized time of the railroads--these emerged as the quintessential modern time keepers. The agrarian rhythms of seasonal festivals and the religious rhythms of church holy days would have little place or utility in modern economic thought and in the labor structures of industrial capitalism.

A classic example of Enlightenment opposition to church holy days is found in an eighteenth-century tract on Scottish worship in which the assault on popular festivity was ironically turned on the revivalistic jubilees of evangelical Protestantism The tract, entitled A Letter from a Blacksmith to the Ministers and Elders of the Church of Scotland, went through multiple editions in Scotland, England, Ireland, and America and became a standard text in the Enlightenment's critique of the enthusiastic excesses of Protestant piety. To the pseudonymous Blacksmith, the thronged revivals and lengthy sacramental occasions of the evangelicals hindered the Scottish economy as much as Catholic festivals slowed the economics of Italy and France. "The people lose many labouring days by them." he said, "and the country is deprived of the fruit of their industry." These holy days, or, as the Blacksmith preferred to label them, "idle days," were a massive hindrance to Scottish commerce:

I have seen above three thousand people at one of these occasions. But supposing that one with another, there are only fifteen hundred, and that each of them, one with another, might earn 6d. a day. Every sacrament, by its three idle days, will cost the country much about 112[pounds]. 10s. sterling, not including the days that they who live at a great distance must lose in coming and going, nor the losses the farmer must sustain when occasions happen in the hay harvest or seed times; the man of business, when they chance to fall upon market days; or the tradesman, when any particular piece of work is in hand that requires dispatch.... These occasions, as they are managed at present , will cost Scotland at least 235,000[pounds]. sterling; an immense sum for sermons!

Popular holidays and religious festivals were hardly considered economic opportunities, but instead were understood to be in clear opposition to the interests of merchants and tradespeople.

This kind of economic slide rule was explicitly extended to the United States in commercial critiques of the camp meetings. An article in the Wesleyan Repository in 1822, appearing under the pen name Scrutator, sounded the same alarm or had the work of the Blacksmith. "Hundreds and perhaps thousands of the spectators," the author observed, who attend these occasions day after day, losing their time, spending their money, and acquiring, or indulging in habits of dissipation, would be much better employed in pursuing their respective occupations at home, for the support of their families." Scrutator went on to make the point explicitly in terms of cash, subjecting the camp meetings to an audit as vigorous as the Blacksmith's:

If "time is money," and "labor is the wealth of the community," as is granted by all, it must be admitted that camp meetings ... [are] one of the most expensive measures to the community where they prevail, that could be devised. It could be easily demonstrated, that at any given camp meeting, where the totality of persons, at any given time, was equal to 5000 persons, with the horses and carriages, night and day, for one week, it is attended, at a moderate computation, with a loss of productive labor and expense for diet, drink, etc, of 25,000 dollars--exclusive of cost of tents, furniture, congregation benches and pulpits, and the time employed in preparation for camp, and for return.

Submitting American revivals to this kind of economic reckoning became a commonplace--one that professional evangelists increasingly obliged in streamlined lunchtime or evening meetings and in statistics that demonstrated their cost-effectiveness in saving souls.

The relationship between disciplined enterprise and festal observance was thus routinely conceived in oppositional terms. Among the best embodiments of this widespread assumption is the fabled figure of Ebenezer Scrooge. No text was more influential in the sentimental recovery of Christmas in the nineteenth century that Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol (1843), and few exclamations were more memorable than Scrooge's holiday dismissal, "Bah, humbug!" Scrooge stood as an archetype of those modern merchants who always "hurried up and down, and chinked money in their pockets,... and looked at their watches"; for Scrooge saw no need for any holidays whatsoever and upbraided his clerk for wanting the full day off for Christmas." A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner," Scrooge had to be converted to holiday observance. Indeed, the story was cast in the classic form of a conversion narrative: The hard-hearted Scrooge (the name Ebenezer derives from a Hebrew word for stone) must repent for his calculating ways and be reborn to the cheer, charity, and plenty of Christmas.

By the 1840s, a number of American merchants had already come to share in Scrooge's conversion to holiday observance, and certainly Scrooge's transformation offered a model for additional enlistments, (Dickens's enactments of the Carol in his tour of the United States in 1867-68 were wildly popular and often resembled revival meetings more than dramatic readings. People wept and swooned and pledged hearty Christmas observance; they included the occasional industrialist who promised to close his factory for the holiday.) Still, for many American merchants, as had been the case for the unregenerate Scrooge, what remained most compelling were the routine rhythms of capitalist discipline and hard work. This can be seen, for example, in the diary of C. W. Moore, a New York dry-good merchant, who paid little attention to any holidays in his diary in the 1840s. On Christmas, he often worked at least half the day and made no particular note of its observance as a religous or commercial event. On 22 December 1842 he commented that there was "very little doing" at his store and expressed no sense of this as a season of special opportunity for him as a merchant. As for Scrooge, so too for Moore: The holidays were not the object of commercial ballyhoo; instead, their indulgent celebration was the humbug, a dangerous seduction for driven tradespeople.

Even when merchants came around to the observance and commercial promotion of holidays, modern work discipline still remained paramount. The motto that George Whitney, one of the leading nineteenth-century producers of valentines and other holiday cards, took for his company was typical: "Industry, Punctuality, and Christianity." In recognizing the potential in holidays for the evocation of consumer fantasies, American merchants hardly abandoned the rhythms of Yankee enterprise and Sabbatarian discipline. Scrooge's newfound insouciance was an optimistic and sentimental solution. More often, when merchants rediscovered the holidays, the former transformed the latter, not vice versa, as a merchants systematically extended the apparatus of the market into the realm of celebration. As John Wanamaker, the Presbyterian impresario of the carnivalized theater of the department store, exhorted, "Time is money," and it's much more than money." He scorned "wishy-washy amusements" and "dawdling", like Whitney's, Wanamaker's business entailed a regiment of holiday goodwill, a rigorous system of merchandised celebration.

The rationalization of time, the reform of holidays, and the streamlining of popular celebrations were standard items on the industrial and managerial agenda by the nineteenth century. These processes, with a long and uneven history in Western culture, were by the 1800s in full swing. The confluence of Protestant Sabbatarianism, Enlightenment rationalism, industrial work discipline, and commercial capitalism had forged a consensus: Popular forms of celebration, plebeian patterns of leisure, and the bountiful round of holy days were bad for business. This basic drive for calendrical restraint continued unabated into the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries--for example, in Britain, the license of St. Monday was tamed, and the dissolute energies of Harvest Home were largely domesticated. Likewise in the United States, efforts at holiday reform were apparent in pressures to make the Fourth of July safe, same, and sober and in attempts to make Halloween a home-centered party rather than a night of pranks and property damage. Still more recently, the charged debates about Martin Luther King, Jr., Day revealed the deep hold of economic considerations on public discourse about holidays. Opposition to the occassion took varied forms, but economic costs and the loss of productivity were among the primary arguments advanced against the day. (Ronald Reagan regularly invoked these issues.) The holiday's projected cost was consistently presented, however disingenuously, as among its principal drawbacks.

As the eventual success of the King holiday suggests, commerce did not invariably triumph. Preindustrial and agrarian rhythms persisted alongside the modern timekeepers; ethnic and working-class traditions refused to yield to the dictates of moral reform and the homogenizing force of industrialization; Christians often continued to go about their celebrations with the leisurely exuberance of the spirit-filled at a camp meeting or with the patient solemnity of Lenten devotees. But certainly the pressures of reform took their toll. In England, for example, there had been forty-seven bank holidays was felt across the board, but with special keenness among those who most internalized the demands and ideals of Sabbatarianism and industrial capitalism--namely, middle-class Protestants.

A perspicacious article in the North American Review in 1857 suggested the extent to which these reform pressures had affected American holidays, particularly for those New England Protestants for whom and about whom the unnamed author wrote. Holidays in the United States, in this author's view, were sadly deficient. For one thing, there were not many of them. This, the author admitted, was "consistent with the industrious habits and the civic prosperity of the land, "but perhaps such virtues had been pressed too far to the detriment of the "the boon of leisure, the amenities of social intercourse, the sacredness and the humors of old-fashioned holidays." The devotion of thrift and enterprise, the absorption in the business and the dominion of practical habits," seemed to shroud even those few holidays that were celebrated. To this writer, the typical American festival had been the celebration at the opening of the Erie Canal, a fete for a commercial and technological feat. "Our festivals," the author concluded, "are chiefly on occasions of economical interest. Daily toll is suspended and gala assemblies convene to rejoice over the completion of an aquaduct or a railroad, or the launching of an ocean-streamer...Too many of our so-called holidays are tricks to trade, too many are exclusively utilitarian, too many consecrate external success and material well-being, and too few are based on sentiment, taste, and good-fellowship." From this New England perspective, the classic American pageant was not a mystery play or Mardi Gras, but "a fleet of streamers." Enterprise holds carnival," the author aphorized, "while Poetry keeps lent."

The romantic nostalgia for festivity and the lament concerning its loss were important themes among middle class Vieterians. This author fittingly invoked Charles Lamb's despondent complaint that "the red-letter days, now become, to all intents and purposes, dead-letter days," a nearly habitual expression of romantic despair that functioned in itself as a call for revival. Like Lamb and other romantics, the essayist for the North American Review championed the recovery of various holiday observances in sociable, sentimental forms. This nostalgic yearning for renewed holiday celebration, for "those consolatory interstices , and sprinklings of freedom," proved a crucial underpinning for the commercial refashioning of celebrations in the nineteenth century. Merchants rushed in to satisfy this romantic longing for "old-fashioned holidays, for the "hearty sentiment of festivity." If the commercial pressures of thrift industry, and productivity threatened to destroy these holiday genialities, the fantasies dreams and wonders of the marketplace were all apparent source of salvation. Not that this romantic critic (and others) found in this prospect a wholly satisfying solution. As the author bitterly observed, "capital is made of amusement as of the holidays was traught not only with sentimental possibility, but also with the peril of further romantic estrangement. By the 1850s the Victorian revival of Christmas and St. Valentine's Day had already proceeded fairly far, and the dramaturgy of merchants would greatly assist the jovial, sentimental rebirth of both. As the sociologist Colin Campbell has argued, the "romantic ethic" of feeling, sentiment, and imagination did much to inspire modern forms of consumerism, and this link certainly also held in the realm of holiday observance. Ironically, the romantic alienation from bourgeois disciplines and Enlightenment rationality--the quixotic longing for festival and play, the renewed yearning for freedom, license, and imagination--invited new market experiments with the holidays: Merchants could both stir and satisfy these romantic cravings of sentiment, fantasy, and celebration.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Holidays Economic aspects United States, United States Religious life and customs, United States Economic conditions