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Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture

Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture

Edited by Sheila Whiteley
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Christmas, Ideology and Popular Culture
    Book Description:

    A contemporary and lively introduction to the study of popular culture through one central case study.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3187-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Sheila Whiteley

    How do we understand Christmas? The ways in which this question can be answered depend very much on the status given to it. For the many, it is an unavoidable expense, one which emphasises giving but at a cost, as child-centred advertising creates often unrealisable expectations; the letter to Santa is quickly superseded by a list which not only details the identified gift but also the comparative price offered by catalogues and relevant stores. Yet despite an underlying cynicism about ever-increasing commercialisation and the tensions generated by family gatherings, Christmas continues to be accepted as an inevitable part of the...


    • CHAPTER 1 The Invention of the English Christmas
      (pp. 17-31)
      John Storey

      The ‘traditional’ English Christmas was invented between the 1830s and 1880s. Its invention was directly connected to the processes of industrialisation and urbanisation and only indirectly connected to religion. To claim that the English Christmas was invented in the nineteenth century is to raise the objection that the Nativity was then almost two thousand years old. Although the Nativity may well have been two thousand years old, it and Christmas are not really the same thing.

      Constantine the Great, who was Roman Emperor between AD 285 and 337, established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire in AD...

    • CHAPTER 2 Conspicuous Consumption and Festive Follies: Victorian Images of Christmas
      (pp. 32-49)
      Sara M. Dodd

      This chapter explores the themes that came to be associated with the middle-class Victorian vision of Christmas and the iconography of its illustrations. Their emphasis is not so much on religious imagery as on pagan survivals and the associated consumption to excess, though there are warnings against over-indulgence and reminders of traditional Christian virtues like charity in both high art (Royal Academy paintings) and popular culture (cartoons in the magazine Punch and Christmas cards). The creation of a Christmas tradition, with its associated symbols and rituals, can often be seen in constructed images of a nostalgic past – in a ‘great...

    • CHAPTER 3 Consumption, Coca-colonisation, Cultural Resistance – and Santa Claus
      (pp. 50-68)
      George McKay

      In what ways has the iconography and practice of Christmas been shaped, understood and consumed as an American experience? This chapter explores, explains and questions the ideological valence of Christmas in part as an American socio-economic and cultural (export) practice. I do acknowledge the fact that Daniel Miller has identified a number of the international strands of influence operating transatlantically on Christmas from the mid-nineteenth century on whereby ‘[t]his syncretic modern form extracts the Christmas tree from the German tradition, the filling of stockings from the Dutch tradition, the development of Santa Claus mainly from the United States, the British...


    • CHAPTER 4 Religious Controversies over Christmas
      (pp. 71-87)
      Jennifer Rycenga

      The stresses of the contemporary holiday season – gift-giving, travel to visit family, increased requests from charities, year-end financial worries – are not calculated to bring out the best in people, despite hymns that extol ‘good cheer’. Contemporary identity politics, especially in the hands of a vocal and aggrieved majority, only makes matters worse. Holidays become major sites of ideological posturing, quite distant from the pious practices ideally imagined. Christmas in America has now become a stage for both commercial excess and majoritarian Christian identity.

      Whether fortuitous or strategic, the placement of the Christmas season at the winter solstice and end of...

    • CHAPTER 5 Christmas Carols
      (pp. 88-97)
      Barry Cooper

      Christmas without Christ is like Hamlet without the prince, and a celebration without meaning. Yet in the secular world of today, many people rarely encounter the true message of Christmas except when they hear it proclaimed in Christmas carols, which have become an almost inescapable part of the Christmas festivities in Britain, America and elsewhere. The carols recount and interpret the message and the original Christmas story in a great many ways, sometimes at great length, other times more succinctly. The essence of the Christmas message can in fact be summed up in a single word – Emmanuel (Hebrew for ‘among-us-God’),...

    • CHAPTER 6 Christmas Songs – Sentiments and Subjectivities
      (pp. 98-112)
      Sheila Whiteley

      It is somewhat of a paradox to think that the popularity of the Christian feast of the Nativity, not least the sentiments now associated with Christmas, is largely due to the enduring relevance of a Victorian morality tale concerned primarily with the twin evils of social injustice and poverty. Haunted by spirits which appear at the ‘witching hour’ of midnight, there is also a hint of the Gothic, but as Christmas combines the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ with traditions and customs that draw on the winter solstice feasts of Saturnalia, Yule and Mithras, this is not so...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Musical Underbelly of Christmas
      (pp. 113-134)
      Freya Jarman-Ivens

      In the perennial Yuletide preparations, the great media machine launches its most impressive marketing event of the year. Shortly after the summer sales (at the latest) and with little heed to the increasingly multi-cultural nature of societies, stores across the capitalist world pull out all the stops in an attempt to remind consumers of the ‘values’ of Christmas. ‘Traditional’ ‘family’ Christmases are the primary image being sold: children clad in tartan pyjamas running excitedly downstairs to a living room decked with the finest trees, garlands, candles and baubles; opening a pile of beautiful hand-made wooden toys in front of an...


    • CHAPTER 8 Christmas and War
      (pp. 137-148)
      Christine Agius

      At first glance, the relationship between Christmas and war appears to be in juxtaposition. Christmas, with its celebration of the birth of Christ, is normally the season of goodwill, imbued with religious meaning as a time for moral reflection. Christmas celebrations are family-centred, and the holiday of Christmas suggests a break from the everyday business of life and the impersonal forces that exist outside of our control. War, on the other hand, is the business of politics, conflict and destruction, and the absence of peace. Its meaning and practice seem divorced from the positive notions of humanity and (in most...

    • CHAPTER 9 Christmas and the Media
      (pp. 149-163)
      Tara Brabazon

      A pretty usual Australian Christmas concluded 2004: too much food, too much grog and an endless tapestry of heat. Barbecue-burnt sausages were followed by wine, garlic bread and cheesecake. Steve Hawke remarked of such baked Christmases that ‘you have to be in the mood for warm beer at nine in the morning’ (1998: 116). Families – in all their complexity and difficulties – enfolded us. Once more, I heard too much Abba and talked to (too many) relatives about shoe shopping and Christmas tree decorations. This banality and repetition has a comfort to it. On returning home on Boxing Day and expecting...

    • CHAPTER 10 Christmas and the Movies: Frames of Mind
      (pp. 164-176)
      John Mundy

      Despite its origins in pagan festivals, modern Christmas is seen as a reinvention of tradition dating from the mid-Victorian period. Christmas Day only became a public holiday in Britain in 1834 and a national holiday in the United States in 1865. In spite of continuing exhortations by religious authorities to remember its ‘true meaning’, by the late nineteenth century Christmas was less about Christian spirituality and more about a ‘sentimental humanitarianism [which] saluted and celebrated the family, childhood and the extended family of the nation’ (Golby and Purdue 2000: 80). Charles Dickens’s short novel A Christmas Carol (1843) is regarded...


    • CHAPTER 11 Popular Culture and Christmas: A Nomad at Home
      (pp. 179-187)
      Thom Swiss

      Like many homes, mine was gendered; it was my mother’s sphere. Airless as a snow globe, neat as the wrapping on the family Christmas presents, my parents’ suburban home outside of Chicago was orderly and suffocating. Not so the world around us; it was the mid-1960s in America.

      As other writers in this volume have suggested, home can be understood as one part of a binary relation in which the private is defined by distinction from the public. This is a story of how the two collided in my own life as a teenager. The chapter is built around both...

    • CHAPTER 12 Reflections of a Jewish Childhood during Christmas
      (pp. 188-195)
      Gerry Bloustien

      Last Christmas I received a card that jolted me back to my childhood in a way that has not happened for at least forty years! I received a card from Helen, one of my oldest friends and yet one with whom, after years of separation, I had only relatively recently been reunited through persistent searching and the miracle of global communication systems. As children, Helen and I had lived as neighbours. We went to the same school, shared secrets and family holidays, and played side by side with identical dolls. Every Christmas time, I was regularly invited into her home...

  10. Postscript
    (pp. 196-196)

    I would like to thank the contributors for their insights into Christmas. They have been convivial company and I can think of no better companions with whom to celebrate the festive season – Christmas and Hanukkah alike! To paraphrase Charles Dickens, they are not:

    a mere assemblage . . . got up at a week or two’s notice, originating this year, having no . . . precedent in the past, and not likely to be repeated in the next . . . So draw your chair nearer the blazing fire – fill the glass and round the song . . . Our...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-207)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 208-211)
  13. Index
    (pp. 212-222)