Santa and the shopping season

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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By Sarah Lilienthal

The image of Santa Claus is embedded in the American holiday experience — particularly holiday shopping and gift-giving. Of course, historically speaking, our modern-day Santa Claus is loosely based on the 4th century Christian bishop St. Nicholas of Myra, who was known for giving gifts to those in need.

The idea of gifts at Christmas time — especially for children — has become an integral part of Santa, with his snow-white beard, fur-lined red coat and sleigh full of gifts.

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Albert Lea’s newspapers of yesteryear are filled with cheerful depictions of Santa in festive holiday advertisements showing the latest and greatest gift ideas. A brief survey of Freeborn County newspapers dating back to the 1890s shows an interesting progression of holiday advertising.

In 1898 in the Freeborn County Standard, Santa (or any other mention of Christmas) didn’t show up until mid-December. Sixteen years later, in 1914 Christmas advertisements began in early December, and in 1928, in the Albert Lea Evening Tribune, Santa showed up in advertisements beginning already in late November.

Finally, in 1958, the Christmas advertisements began before Thanksgiving, giving Santa and his helpers a little over a month to prepare their Christmas gifts.