Puritans in early America waged the first war on Christmas, but they weren’t the only ones. Others have followed in their wake. Enter SPUG—Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving. Over 100 years ago, this society arose to combat the economic costs of gift giving. Is it time to restart SPUG?
Author-historian Paul Collins recounts the story of SPUG in a Slate magazine essay. As he writes—
“SPUG started with a bang at the Nov. 14, 1912 meeting of the Working Girls’ Vacation Fund. Founded a year earlier to help Manhattan shop clerks set aside a little money each week, the fund had quickly grown to 6,000 members, with savings of $30,000. But those savings faced a jolly nemesis: Christmas. Sapped by the extravagant gifts that female department store clerks were pressured into giving supervisors—often to the tune of two week’s worth of wages—the fund’s members took action.”
The basis of this “War on Christmas” wasn’t religious or ideological. It was economic and political. This was a working women’s movement. “SPUG squads” formed to deny their male supervisors’ extravagant gift expectations.
The SPUG movement denied the many male applicants until Teddy Roosevelt petitioned and become the first male SPUG.
The society eventually changed its name, Collins notes, from the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving to the Society for the Promotion of Useful Giving. Under this banner, members focused on giving to the needy.
SPUG didn’t last long, but the economic costs of gift giving persist.
What do you think of this campaign more than a century ago?
Your viewpoint is important!
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