“War on Christmas?” Are you a SPUG?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series "War on Christmas"
New York Times SPUG Christmas giving headline November 1912

The New York Times headline from November 1912.

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!

You can leave a comment below. Or, you can talk with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

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Series Navigation<< “War on Christmas”? Who waged America’s FIRST war on Christmas?“War on Christmas?” Are retailers “naughty” or “nice”? >>


  1. Sandra Xenakis says

    I’ve actually celebrating Christmas with my family because of just that — extreme expectations for gifts that I can’t afford. I’m a single senior living on Social Security, my only source of income. I just can’t afford to give gifts to my sisters, their husbands, my nieces and their husbands and children, etc. etc. There is nothing I want or need from them except their company. I’ve suggested that we draw names and each person give one gift to one person each Christmas, but they don’t want to do that. And it’s not enjoyable for me to sit there and watch them open gifts that I think are extravagant and unnecessary. I also dislike all the frantic energy around Christmas: the urgency to buy, traffic jams, crowded stores, all the time and effort spent on decorating and food prep and so forth. I no longer have the energy for any of this! The best holidays are the ones I spend with just a few people, no gifts are exchanged and we have a meaningful exchange of conversation.

  2. Sandra Xenakis says

    Whoops! A word was dropped that was critical in my post–I’ve STOPPED celebrating Christmas with my family!