That's the topic of this interesting post over at Reason.com: How Capitalism Made the Christmas Tree Better. As the author of the piece, Greg Beato, recounts, while Christmas trees were originally introduced to try to de-commericalize the Christmas holiday, the entrepreneurial spirit soon took the opportunity presented by the Christmas tree to expand the market for Christmas decorations.
While the Christmas tree had been introduced as a means to dampen the holiday’s commercialism, it instead did the opposite. It gave retailers a new item to sell, and that item in turn prompted additional spending. Once you had a tree, you need ornaments and, of course, a vast array of presents. Once you were decorating inside, why not outside too? The tree helped furnish the holiday, and the increasing number of furnishings associated with Christmas gave people more and more ways to make Christmas a larger and more significant part of their lives.
And the tree would not have caught on it as it did had it not been for the efforts of entrepreneurs determined to increase its availability and affordability. However “exorbitant” Mark Carr’s prices were, buying a tree from him must have been cheaper than going to the Catskills to get one. The next year he brought more and sold out again. Once a family affair limited to a relatively small number of practitioners, the ritual of the Christmas tree had been conveniently commercialized and was on its way to becoming a beloved mainstream tradition.I do not know if Beato's retelling of the rise of the Christmas tree as a cultural phenomenon makes me like capitalism more rather than less.