Christmas

Christmas: A Candid History

BRUCE DAVID FORBES
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 187
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnktx
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  • Book Info
    Christmas
    Book Description:

    Written for everyone who loves and is simultaneously driven crazy by the holiday season,Christmas: A Candid Historyprovides an enlightening, entertaining perspective on how the annual Yuletide celebration got to be what it is today. In a fascinating, concise tour through history, the book tells the story of Christmas-from its pre-Christian roots, through the birth of Jesus, to the holiday's spread across Europe into the Americas and beyond, and to its mind-boggling transformation through modern consumerism. Packed with intriguing stories, based on research into myriad sources, full of insights, the book explores the historical origins of traditions including Santa, the reindeer, gift giving, the Christmas tree, Christmas songs and movies, and more. The book also offers some provocative ideas for reclaiming the joy and meaning of this beloved, yet often frustrating, season amid the pressures of our fast-paced consumer culture.DID YOU KNOWFor three centuries Christians did not celebrate Christmas? Puritans in England and New England made Christmas observances illegal? St. Nicholas is anelfin the famous poem "The Night Before Christmas"? President Franklin Roosevelt changed the dateof Thanksgiving in order to lengthen the Christmas shopping season? Coca-Cola helped fashion Santa Claus's look in an advertising campaign?

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93372-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    I love Christmas. And Christmas drives me crazy.

    Based upon reactions from family, friends, and colleagues, I am not alone in both responses to the Christmas season. On one hand, I love the music, lights, and family gatherings, along with the story of the Christ child, shepherds, and wise men, and the messages of generosity, love, joy, and peace. On the other hand, I am frustrated by how hectic and commercialized the season has become, and worried that all of the cultural trappings can overwhelm spiritual aspects of Christmas. At times the reality of my Christmas experiences fails to live...

  5. one FIRST THERE WAS WINTER
    (pp. 1-14)

    To understand what Christmas has become, first we should consider winter.

    For the moment, set aside everything you have heard about the baby Jesus in a manger, and shepherds and wise men, and think instead about winter. Of course, the characteristics of winter vary with location because, depending upon where you live, winter is a more dramatic reality for some people than for others. I assume that most readers of this book are North American, and thus I will emphasize the Northern Hemisphere, but an emphasis on the Northern Hemisphere also reflects the early and medieval history of Christianity. The...

  6. two CHRISTMAS COMES LATE
    (pp. 15-42)

    Early Christians had no Christmas. The first written evidence of an annual celebration on December 25 commemorating the birth of Jesus comes from the fourth century. Epiphany developed a little earlier, in the eastern portion of the Christian church, but it was not quite the same as what we now call Christmas. Compared with many other aspects of early Christianity, Christmas was a later development.

    This comes as a surprise for many of us, because we usually think of Christmas and Easter as the two most special times of the Christian year. It was not always that way. Early Christianity...

  7. three CHRISTMAS IS LIKE A SNOWBALL
    (pp. 43-66)

    One of several competing legends about the origin of the Christmas tree centers on Boniface, an English Benedictine monk who was a missionary to Germany. As the story goes, in 723 Saint Boniface encountered winter sacrifices being conducted in front of a mighty oak tree dedicated to Thor, near Geismar, in what is now Germany. In anger, Boniface seized an axe and felled Thor’s oak in one mighty blow. The gathering of local citizens expected Thor to strike Boniface with a bolt of lightning, and when the lightning failed to appear, Boniface proclaimed it a sign of the superiority of...

  8. four FROM SAINT NICHOLAS TO SANTA CLAUS
    (pp. 67-96)

    Saint Nicholas probably was a real person, but we know very little else about him. Nevertheless he has become the most beloved nonbiblical saint in the history of Christianity, with endless stories and images clustered around him, stirring widespread popular devotion. As Saint Nicholas rolled through the centuries, into Europe, to America and elsewhere in the world, changing shape and characteristics along the way, he offers an ideal case study of the snowball process at work.

    TheCatholic Encyclopediabegins its entry about Nicholas succinctly, summing up our minimal historical knowledge:

    Though he is one of the most popular saints...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. 97-108)
  10. five AND THEN THERE WAS MONEY
    (pp. 109-136)

    In 1892 William Dean Howells wrote a now-classic short story entitled “Christmas Every Day,” in which a child learned that it might be unwise to wish that every day was Christmas. A scene early in the story evokes a common vision of Christmas morning:

    She waited around till the rest of the family were up, and she was the first to burst into the library, when the doors were opened, and look at the large presents laid out on the library-table—books, and portfolios, and boxes of stationery, and breast-pins, and dolls, and little stoves, and dozens of handkerchiefs, and...

  11. six WRESTLING WITH CHRISTMAS
    (pp. 137-154)

    In one of the memorable stories in the book of Genesis, scripture for Jews and Christians alike, Jacob wrestled all night long with a mysterious adversary who resisted identification. When morning came, neither side had prevailed, but Jacob came away from the encounter with a limp and a blessing (Genesis 32:22–32). Jacob’s wrestling serves as a resonant image for me when I grapple with many issues, reminding me that the struggles can be long and draining and the challenges unclear, but there is hope about the outcome. I think that applies to wrestling with Christmas.

    For many of us,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 155-162)
  13. AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE
    (pp. 163-170)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 171-179)