National Shop Early for Christmas Day

ww1Today is September 4th, 2014 and there are just 112 days left until Christmas.

It is National Shop Early for Christmas Day. It is not in force now but way back in 1918 as a World War I wartime measure the national Council of Defense urged early shopping and practical gift-giving.

In July of 1918 the council — comprised of the secretaries of war, navy, interior, agriculture, commerce and labor — virtually abolished Christmas, in the commercial sense. The only sort of gift that could be given that year, these Cabinet members decreed, was war bonds and stamps.

The government had been calling upon the citizenry during the war to make various sacrifices, such as observing meatless and wheatless days…and for the most part, merchants and consumers complied with the requests without grumbling. But a proclamation that would result in children receiving bonds and stamps in place of dolls and sleds simply went too far.

And what is normally the busiest, hence most profitable, time of year for business would have been a financial dry spell.

In backing down from its July proclamation, the government announced that the guidelines were amended based on assurances from the nation’s retailers that certain restrictions would be observed. These included inducing customers to shop early and and purchase only utilitarian items for gifts—except for presents to be given to children.

“Every child in the United States will rejoice over the decision of the National Council of Defense in the Santa Claus case,” a Chicago Herald and Examiner editorial says in response to the decision.

The guidelines called upon the public to “spread the period of holiday purchases over the months of October, November and December—thus relieving the transportation facilities from the usual heavy congestion during the latter half of December, and releasing thousands of extra holiday employees for war industries.”

Merchants were asked to make note of the policy in their ads starting in early September. A Times ad on Sept. 21 placed by Coulter’s at Seventh and Olive, offered handkerchiefs for sale, exhorting the public to “buy for Christmas.”

A Sept. 30 ad in the Los Angeles Express depicts Santa Claus saluting Uncle Sam. The headline is: “Santa Claus Has Enlisted in the Service of Uncle Sam—and so Christmas Shopping Begins Now.” Uncle Sam is quoted as telling Santa what the shopping rules are for the 1918 Christmas season, concluding: “And be sure to emphasize that all packages to be mailed or expressed must be under way by Nov. 30.” The ad continues: “ ‘Righto,’ says Santa Claus….‘From now on I take my orders from you. And now folks won’t you cooperate with me that I in turn may cooperate with Uncle Sam?”

The entire campaign, of course, lost its head of steam when the armistice ending the war was signed on November 11th.

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