Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Christmas by Judith Flanders

book cover
by Judith Flanders

ISBN-13: 9781250118349
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Released: Oct. 24, 2017

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from NetGalley:
Christmas has always been a magical time. Or has it? Thirty years after the first recorded Christmas, the Pope was already warning that too many people were spending the day, not in worship, but in partying and eating to excess. By 1616, the playwright Ben Jonson was nostalgically remembering Christmas in the old days, certain that it had been better then.

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

My Review:
Christmas is a history of how Christmas was celebrated, mainly in the British Isles, Germany, and America. The author repeatedly stated that Christmas was never primarily a religious holiday as many non-religious-focused activities have always occurred on the day. As most people didn't get the day off work for most of Christmas history, this seems an odd argument. The author came across as believing that Christians who push for more focus on the intended purpose of the holiday (celebrating Christ's birth) shouldn't do so because it's never been celebrated solely by people spending the day in worship and church services.

The author talked about when a day was first chosen to celebrate Christ's birth up to recent times. She examined written sources for what was actually done on Christmas (and New Years) and organized this information in roughly chronological order. It would have been easier for me to remember the progressions if the development of Christmas trees, for example, had been examined all at once rather than in chunks throughout several chapters.

She focused on European customs, mostly English, Scottish, German, and how these mixed and were added to in America after it was colonized. Basically, different areas had different customs or variations of a custom. Many of these customs were not specific to Christmas but became attached to the Christmas season. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that people created an ideal, traditional Christmas (which never existed) and increasingly standardized Christmas legends and activities.

She covered the origins and development of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, decorations, carols, cards, and candles, nativity plays and scenes, holiday foods and alcoholic drinks, gift-giving and wrapping gifts, advertising, parades, and holding special Christmas religious services. She explained kissing boughs, wassailing, mumming, role switching, and 12th Night activities. She talked about how Christmas was banned in several areas for a while and how the day changed into a child-focused holiday. She talked about how Washington Irving's and Charles Dicken's fictional depictions influence how people celebrated Christmas and how radio, film, and TV movies further created new Christmas traditions.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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