A Biography

Book - 2017
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A critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author explores the Christmas holiday, from the original festival through present day traditions.

Christmas has always been a magical time. Or has it? Thirty years after the first recorded Christmas, one archbishop was already complaining that his flock was spending the day, not in worship, but in dancing and feasting to excess. By 1616, the playwright Ben Jonson was nostalgically remembering the Christmases of the old days, certain that they had been better then.

Other elements of Christmas are much newer - who would have thought gift-wrap was a novelty of the twentieth century? That the first holiday parade was neither at Macy's, nor even in the USA?

Some things, however, never change. The first known gag holiday gift book, The Boghouse Miscellany , was advertised in the 1760s 'for gay Gallants, and good companions', while in 1805, the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition exchanged-what else?-presents of underwear and socks.

Christmas is all things to all people: a religious festival, a family celebration, a period of eating and drinking. In Christmas , bestselling author and acclaimed social historian Judith Flanders casts a sharp eye on its myths, legends and history, deftly moving from the origins of the holiday in the Roman empire, through the first appearance of Christmas trees in Central Europe, to what might be the origins of Santa Claus - in Switzerland - to draw a picture of the season as it has never been seen before.

Publisher: New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, ©2017.
ISBN: 9781250118349
Characteristics: vii, 245 pages :,illustrations ;,25 cm.


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haklh Sep 26, 2018

3.5 stars.
This is a very informative, often surprising and very well-researched history into the origins and evolution of various Christmas traditions.

The author performed much mythbusting around public notions of Christmas being a more religious, less commercial festival "in the good old days" - in fact, the sources suggest that Christmas has always been more strongly associated with feasting, drinking and commerce than with religion. Even the more religious-seeming traditions such as nativity scenes and carols had secular origins rather than religious ones.

These investigations into the history of Christmas also, directly and indirectly, reflect upon the difficulties of historical research, and people's insatiable desire for nostalgia and myth-making. Over and over, the authors showed that, i) people naturally assumed that things were better in the olden days (while conveniently forgetting the worse aspects); and ii) how quickly certain traditions gain an ancient aura (eg certain ceremonies that were, in fact, only 15 years' old were readily believed to be "since time immemorial").

Despite its festive topic, it is not a light "holiday read" - while the contents are entertaining, it is quite an academic and information-dense work. You need a bit of concentration to keep track of the various historical sources quoted. Read it carefully and you will be rewarded with a much improved experience.

CircMary Jan 05, 2018

Interesting overview of the whole Christmas thing - what we think it is, what we want it to be, and what it really is.

Jan 02, 2018

I enjoyed this book and learned a lot about how the celebrations of Christmas evolved over time. You can read the whole book or just the chapters you are interested in. I would highly recommended to a casual reader or someone interested in authenticated history.

Dec 27, 2017

Wanted to like this more but it came down to Christmas is banned, no, it's not, yes, it is, etc. Wish there were a lot more tidbits.

Nov 07, 2017

A little disorganized, and I don't know that anyone would read all the quoted old poems, but full of interesting tidbits about the history of Christmas.

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