Asheville Archives: Local writer satirizes the holiday shopping experience, 1912

'TIS THE SEASON: A local article published in 1912 makes one thing clear — last minute shopping is nothing new. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County Special Collections, Pack Memorial Library

Tooth Barkington, an occasional contributor to The Asheville Citizen, opened his Dec. 15, 1912, article in The Sunday Citizen with an original poem:

“Christmas windows oft remind us
As we pass each Asheville store;
That to do our Christmas shopping
We have only nine days more.”

The writer then clarified the number he offered in his original stanza, noting one of the nine days was a Sunday, meaning “only eight real money spending days remain.”

Fortunately for Asheville shoppers, Barkington had some sage advice.

“The best thing to do is to take your purse gently in one hand, a list of things you want to buy in the other, and beat it down town the first thing tomorrow morning,” he wrote. “Everything that anyone could possibly want (and a great many things that no one will ever want) can be found in the store of the Asheville merchants, all laid out and decorated with Christmas trimmings.”

The sarcastic piece went on to note a scarcity of “SPUG” members within Asheville. “The Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving seems to have but few advocates in this city or rather, none of the Asheville citizens appear to think that their gifts will be useless,” Barkington wrote. “At any rate [shoppers] are drifting right along, getting the pick of the Christmas articles already on display, and in spite of this, it is expected that the usual throng of late givers will crowd into the stores the last night before Christmas, buying the things they have overlooked before.”

Despite his previous critique of useless gift-giving, Barkington went on to encourage readers to “shop early, and keep on shopping early, until the last Christmas present is safely ensconced in its tissue paper wrapping and laid away to gladden the heart on Christmas day.”

Procrastinators need not worry, though. According to Barkington, local shops were staffed with hundreds of clerks “smiling and pleasant as can be … cheerfully desiring to see that late shopper in the land where no Santa Claus dare venture.”

The cheeky author concluded his piece with one last push for consumerism. “Get up early tomorrow and take a look at the various windows,” he wrote. “You’ll find them well worth seeing, and if you can’t find enough in the windows to take care of all your superfluous coin, gamble in Wall street.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctation are preserved from the original documents.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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