Top Five Ways Credit Cards Have Changed Christmas

by Bill on December 21, 2011

Gifts given during the holiday season are supposed to represent a showing of appreciation, admiration and a show of gratitude. They were once a sign of how a person wished to give something back to someone whom gave them so much. When BankAmericard (now MasterCard) arrived in 1959 and Amex arrived a year later, all that began to change. Credit cards changed Christmas shopping.

Over the past 50 years (since 1961) many changes have occurred to the financial end of Christmas shopping. Some have not been good. On this front, there are five ways credit cards have changed shopping around Christmas.

A Gallup poll conducted in 1961 placed the average holiday spending for Americans $119.82. This was for the prior year’s Christmas presents. Gallup did another survey in 2011 which pegged the average American holiday gift spending at $764.

The Harvard Business History Review pegs the number of circulating credit cards at 1.4 billion being used by only 181 million people. Yes, people still think having more than one card is more feasible than having money on hand. Compare this to 1961 when there were only between 11 and 13 million credit cards total in use.


Here’s another trend that disturbs many. According to Consumer Reports, close to half of the holiday shopping done this year will be paid for via credit cards. Which to me indicates half of all gifts purchased this year were either not planned in advance, or were actually beyond the financial means of the person buying it.

A related trend to number three above scares me, and should be a wakeup call to lots of people. The same article from Consumer Reports noted that as of October 2011, 14.1 million Americans were still taking care of the credit card purchases from 2010.

According to statistics gathered by IMRG (the trade body representing online retailers) 2010 was the first year where online shoppers will outnumber those who go to church on Christmas day. This appeared in a story by Harry Wallup of the Telegraph in December 2010.

Yes this is a lot of facts to toss at you. But it is also proof that consumerism and commercialism has overtaken the essential meaning and purpose of the holiday season. So those would be the five worst ways credit cards have changed Christmas.

How does your spending match up? How do you fit into the trends?

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