Every year Christmas seems to come too fast, signaling the end to another year. This season also brings about the million dollar question: What to get loved ones for Christmas? Starting months in advance, retailers and manufacturers begin advertising potential gifts, including automobiles. For the current market, manufacturers such Lexus and Mercedes advertise that the norm is purchasing a car for a person in the family, whether it is the newly licensed driver or a sports car for the well-deserved parent. However, the tradition of gifting an automobile is not a new one.
When automobiles first drove into American culture, the average family only owned one automobile at a time. It was not until after World War II, that American families started to become two-car households.
Automobile companies had to compete to be the one car owned by the typical American family. One advertising tactic was to pitch that a car was the perfect Christmas gift for the whole family. As one Packard catalog suggests, “Hang a Packard on the family’s Christmas Tree this year and thus dispose of your gift problem for four or five years to come.” Not only would a Packard make a great gift, but it was such a well-built car that it would last for four or five years. Packard would even provide a nifty gift box for the key to be hung on the tree, rather than the actual Packard that the advertisement suggested.
The Z. Taylor Vinson collection also contains examples of marketing cars for Christmas from Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Both companies depict Santa driving their cars, each company claiming to be his favorite car. Santa declares that Pontiac is “for the man who believes there is nothing too good for his family.” However, while Santa is praising Pontiac, Oldsmobile depicts Santa actually using their car as his sleigh, powered by the car’s V8 engine.
These catalogs, mostly dated from the 1930’s, suggest that it was popular to give a car for Christmas, and the tradition still continues today. With most contemporary American families owning multiple automobiles, the tradition changed from buying one for the whole family to instead buying one for a member of the family. However, with the changing economic climate, only a small percentage of the population can now actually afford to gift a new vehicle as these Honda Christmas commercials suggest. Rather, it is now more sensible to purchase a car for yourself.
Whether or not you can afford a car for Christmas, happy holidays from the staff of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection! We’ll be back in 2012 with plenty of exciting new items to share with you!
Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.