Recently, Mister Boomer came across a statistic that stated the average American would spend more than $900 on gifts and holiday decorations this year. On the surface, it seems like a staggering sum for one individual, but on examination and comparison to what was happening in the boomer years of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, it’s all relative.
In 1940, before the War and before the beginning of the Baby Boom, the U.S. population was 132 million. Ten years later, the War was over and the Baby Boom was in full gear. The population grew to 159 million. That meant a lot of new families were celebrating Christmas in what they perceived as a modern way. Prior to World War II, nostalgia surrounding Christmas was dominated by scenes and traditions which originated in the Victorian era. By 1950, America was redefining its own identity along with the Baby Boom. Consequently, iconic Christmas imagery, like the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, flourished. That vision of Santa has now become the ultimate image of Old Saint Nick for the generations that followed. The commercial market greatly influenced the spending behavior of boomer parents.
In 1960, the population had ballooned to 180 million. The average income was just over $13,000, and boomer parents spent just over $300 on gifts that year. By the end of the boomer years, the population had crossed 190 million, but Christmas spending did not increase much, just to around $320 on average.
Regardless of how much boomer parents spent, though, they were determined to give their children a different Christmas experience than what they had. The parents of boomers had lived through the Great Depression and a World War. Why wouldn’t they spend whatever they felt they could manage? It turns out what they could manage amounted to between one and two weeks’ salary.
Many recall the 1960s and ’70s as a golden age for toys. Combined with television, which made dramatic inroads in sales during the 1950s and ’60s, toy makers could advertise directly in the homes of the boomers. Absorbing the commercials, boomers asked for the toys, and parents wanted to give them to their kids. At the same time, home decor became a thing for the average person, and that included modernizing the way Christmas was celebrated. Artificial trees, updated lighting, and shiny glass ornaments joined traditional family heirloom decorations to help create a new Christmas era for a new generation.
Mister Boomer recalls times when his brother and sister asked for the brand name toys advertised on TV (like an Erector set for Brother Boomer and a Chatty Cathy for his sister), and there were times when his parents did buy the brand (which obviously increased the spending). Still, the general rule for the family was to try to save whenever possible, and that often meant off-brand toys. In Mister B’s household, where his parents did spend more freely, was in food and beverages for guests. It was a time when family and friends would visit, and in those times, Mister B’s parents wanted to see to it that there was plenty to eat and drink.
Christmas spending this year, by comparison, also amounts to approximately one to two week’s of the average salary. So, the generations that followed boomers have continued to maintain similar levels of holiday spending. Regardless of spending, there is no doubt that the boomer years helped change the way Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. Whether one feels that is for the better or worse, is a question for each individual.
How about you, boomers? Were you aware of what level your parents were spending on gifts and decorations when you were a kid?