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Christmas: A Biography

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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. 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.


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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. 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.

30 review for Christmas: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jaline

    Some of our GoodReads friends recently read and reviewed this book so when I saw a chance to read and review this eBook, I jumped at it. This is a biography of the Christmas season in every sense of the word “biography”. Even though in many ways it reads like a story, it is based on extensive research and facts gleaned from many historical sources, along with newer ones. Rather how Christmas itself evolved, in fact. There are many interesting footnotes, and one of the most Some of our GoodReads friends recently read and reviewed this book so when I saw a chance to read and review this eBook, I jumped at it. This is a biography of the Christmas season in every sense of the word “biography”. Even though in many ways it reads like a story, it is based on extensive research and facts gleaned from many historical sources, along with newer ones. Rather how Christmas itself evolved, in fact. There are many interesting footnotes, and one of the most interesting to me was that December 25th used to be the winter solstice - or the Longest Night, as I like to call it – being a glass half-full kind of person. However, in the year 8 CE the inclusion of leap years shifted the equinoxes and solstices from their previous dates of the 25th of their respective months to the 21st. Thus, the ancient celebrations that used to occur at the equinoxes and solstices remained set in place on the 25th of their respective months, forever to remain somewhat off-kilter to the times of the year they were initially celebrated for. This may have happened with Christmas, and it is difficult to tell because research shows that the celebrations on December 25th did not originally have anything to do with the birth of Christ. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention a date at all, nor even a clue as to the date even though scholars have attempted to establish dates with the scant facts available. In reality the whole concept of Christmas began in much the same way as it is now, with the exception of the name. The myths, legends, ancient festivals, gods, goddesses, saints, and many other influences have contributed to what is called, and celebrated, as Christmas. Its inception was, in fact much more bacchanalian and secular than how we know it today. In fact, even the initial efforts to call it Christmas were resisted by many Christian religions – some of them to this day decline to celebrate it as a religious festival. It is also interesting that other religious and cultural celebrations also occur during the same holiday period. For example, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and Santa Kurosu no ojiisan. The latter occurs in Japan, and where the other celebrations have evolved into children- and family-oriented celebrations, the Japanese celebratory time is predominantly for couples. It is a time when young people meet more openly, date, get to know each other, and hope to meet and marry their life mate. This book is literally overflowing with information, and my acquisitive mind soaked in as much as it could. Some of the evolutionary processes around this Season include: • Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, and many other variations of the symbol for gift-giving • Revelries, traditional foods, music (carols and instrumentals) • Greenery, including Christmas trees, boughs of holly, mistletoe, sheaves of wheat, and other symbolic flora • Ornaments – from edibles and small gifts hanging on loose branches or on trees to ornaments of glass and metal and tinsel; lights – from candles to battery-operated bulbs to electric • Greeting cards – from the amazingly elaborate to the more sedate, many of them predominantly secular but with festive pictures and decorations • Christmas cookies and Christmas crackers – a fun fact: by the 1890’s, Tom Smith & Co. were producing 13 million Christmas crackers per year • Advent wreaths and Advent calendars • Lucia Day • Stores – lights – displays – visits from Santa – photos with Santa in “SantaLand” – Santa Parades – all created by department stores with the objective of displaying their wares for people to buy for their children and friends for gifting • The politics of Christmas, particularly during the wars • Radio / TV/ Movies and other media, and how they influenced the amalgamation of this season of the year into a universal celebration everyone can claim for their own There is so much fascinating material in this book, I am surprised that it is only 256 pages long! Even though many of my own perspectives and myths were exploded in this book, I enjoyed every moment spent reading it. “Christmas” remains enshrouded in mystery, and whether one chooses to celebrate it from a religious perspective, or as a celebration of family, hearth, and home – or a combination of these with other personal or family traditions – at the heart of it I always sense a childlike wonder and a feeling of hope no matter what age or nationality or religion people are.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f-----n Kay. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a------s this side of the nuthouse.” - Clark W. Griswold, Nat “Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f-----n Kay. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a------s this side of the nuthouse.” - Clark W. Griswold, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation “Christmas dinner was no longer only about the turkey, but was a focus of many traditions, drawing together commodities and cash transactions, good and services, and using them as a way to express family connection and love. Families frequently find they have, through a process of repetition and ritual use, imbued commercial, purchased goods with emotion. The ‘good’ dishes, used only on this day, might be no more expensive than the ones in use daily, but they are good because they were once grandmother’s. The ornaments for the Christmas tree might be cheap mass-produced ones, but they are given meaning when parents annually reminisce about buying the ugly neon Santa on their honeymoon as they watch their child hang it up. The order of events, too – presents on Christmas Eve or Day? Before or after Church? Turkey or beef, lunch or dinner? – all these decisions, once repeated, turn cash purchases into emotion. Even watching the same film on television every year becomes part of the ritual…” - Judith Flanders, Christmas: A Biography The trouble with a book like Christmas: A Biography is that it has a tendency to consume its subject. It’s like the scene in Star Wars Episode One: A Phantom Menace, when Qui-Gon Jinn reduce the cool mysticism of the Force to some dreary biochemical process involving midichlorians. Christmas exists, at least for me, as a not-entirely-rational mélange of memories and nostalgia and emotional triggers. To explain what it means is to explain a magic trick. It can be done, but you destroy the magic while you’re doing it. In the spirit of generosity that imbues the season, I will allow that Judith Flanders’ history of the Christmas holiday is just fine. It is totally okay. I read it while sitting on the couch by our Christmas tree, sipping various concoctions spiked with bottom-shelf Irish crème. In such a mood, I’m not really here to trash an inoffensive 244-page survey of my favorite time of the year. Yet, if I’m being honest (and one of the many things I’ve been taught by Christmas movies is the importance of honesty), this wasn’t all that great. That is, it absolutely failed to capture any of the animating spirit that makes Christmas meaningful. Instead, it traffics in factoids, most of them already well-known by anyone who has walked this Earth while even half-conscious. (Of course, if you think that Jesus was literally born on December 25, this book will explode upon your consciousness as revelation itself). Christmas: A Biography is structured as a timeline. The first two pages are devoted to Jesus (non-Christians looking for an understanding of the day should look elsewhere), the third page segues to the winter solstice, and within six pages we are reading about the Icelandic bard Snorri Sturluson and drinking Yule at a midwinter festival. It is a string of facts, draped across the page like lights adorning a Christmas tree (which, according to Flanders, first appeared decorated inside a private home in Strasbourg in 1605). Don’t get me wrong: facts are great. They are, at almost all times, better than lies. (And it should be said that this is finely researched. Or at least, it seems to be. Christmas: A Biography, unfortunately, does not include any endnotes. If I want those, I have to go to a website, which I refuse to do, out of principle. As a reference work, this is made even more useless by the fact that there is not even an index). But a book needs more than facts. It needs some sort of narrative thrust or organizing principle. Here, the structure is nonexistent; rather, it can best be described as hopping madly from one thing to the next, like a greed-addled child tearing through a stack of presents. (Even something as simple as naming – rather than numbering – the chapters might have provided at least a loose framework. That is not done here). Flanders’ material never coalesces around a theme, and she never digs deeply into any one topic, in an attempt to derive something meaningful about it. Christmas in the midst of American slavery, for instance, is given just a few sentences. (While this purports to take an international view, at a certain point, it felt like Flanders was spending most of her time bouncing between England and America. If different traditions interest you, I would recommend pouring yourself some braced nog and watching Rick Steves’ European Christmas). If Flanders has any thesis statement she wishes to make, it is that there has always been a wide gulf between the secular and the religious components of Christmas. More specifically, she believes that the religious has always taken a backseat (or truthfully, the way, way back seat, in the optional third row seating) to the secular. However, she never develops this stance as an argument. Rather, she makes it in a series of asides, scattered throughout the book like Kevin McCallister’s Micro Machines in Home Alone. Accordingly, these mentions feel more like snide potshots than accumulated wisdom. There is also, of course, a lot of hand-wringing about commercialism, which is odd, since Flanders acknowledges that the commercial aspects of Christmas has existed for centuries. This is an incredibly tired subject, and there is little interesting to be said about it. There are occasional flashes of wit and humor in these pages, though a lot more was needed. (The first hundred pages really drag). Mostly, instead of wit or humor or insight, there are tepid observations and the repetition of old chestnuts. (Such as the intellectual property lapse that allowed It’s a Wonderful Life to become a television fixture). The biggest flaw in Christmas: A Biography is that it neglects to propound a reason why it matters at all. In America, at least, Christmas has achieved a kind of ubiquity. Certain extremists still like to pretend there is a “War on Christmas” (a book by that name was published in 2005, the same year of a bloody insurgency in Iraq, where an actual war was being fought). If there was a war, Christmas won, and if there’s anything more to be said about it, it’s that Christmas can also be kind of a bully, pounding you into submission with a cotton-candy bludgeon. There is a backwards creep, as the celebration starts earlier and earlier every year, taking over radio and television stations before the leaves have fallen. It can be exhausting, even for those (like myself) who believe that a proper Christmas season begins on Halloween, with a Gremlins/Black Christmas double-header. In deconstructing Christmas, Flanders has mostly stripped it of its – for lack of a better word – true meaning. That true meaning, of course, is memory. As the years pile on, the past starts to blur. Childhood becomes like a dream that you dreamt in another life. But those Christmas memories stand out. This is a difficult quality to capture in a nonfiction book; indeed, the nonfiction treatment ends up sapping Christmas of the thing that makes it worth studying in the first place. The other night, I returned home from work on a chilly December evening. As soon as I walked in the door, my four year-old daughter Grace ran up to me in a state of high excitement. She wanted to show me the tree, which she had decorated with Grandma. I followed her into the living room, where the Douglas fir glittered beautifully, if at a slight leftward tilt. It suddenly occurred to me that I would remember this moment forever. Someday, I am sure, in twelve years or so, Grace will stumble home at two in the morning, after sneaking out of her bedroom window, and there will be a scene, and she will scream at me to go elf myself, or perhaps shove a candy cane up my... stocking. Even then, I will still have that image of her at four years old, dancing happily in front of the tree. Christmas had taken an ordinary Tuesday and transformed it into something indelible and perfect. That - and not the accumulated minutiae found in Christmas: A Biography - is what makes Christmas eternal for those who celebrate it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    This truly is a biography of Christmas. It includes history, sociology, religious history, folk customs and myths, of many countries in providing a picture over time of the celebration we call Christmas. The primary sources are Northern European, English, and the polyglot American where so many cultures meet. But there are also discussions of Spanish and Mexican influences, African-American Kwanzaa, Jewish festival of lights, all events that happen at the same mid-winter time. This is a cultural This truly is a biography of Christmas. It includes history, sociology, religious history, folk customs and myths, of many countries in providing a picture over time of the celebration we call Christmas. The primary sources are Northern European, English, and the polyglot American where so many cultures meet. But there are also discussions of Spanish and Mexican influences, African-American Kwanzaa, Jewish festival of lights, all events that happen at the same mid-winter time. This is a cultural study which finds that in spite of its seeming obvious relationship to religious observances, Christmas has actually evolved over centuries into a very secular observance. While there remain religious ceremonies of many faiths celebrated from Advent through Little Christmas, January 6th, the primary focus is a celebration of friends and family, gifts for children, etc in these current days. And for all those who bemoan the trashing of the good old ways, when things were done so differently, and people led so much "holier" lives, Flanders has a very interesting tale to tell and some old shibboleths to tear down. I learned many things from reading this, facts that I would not have expected. And while my Christmas memories are not perfectly in line with all of what she says, so much of it does fit in with the "traditions" that have been developing for some time or were born around the same time I was. In one example, the first "Season's Greetings" (equivalent) card (as opposed to Christmas) was sent in the late 19th century. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, some traditions thought to be much older, turn out to have been born in the middle of the 20th century. Oh there are too many examples! One final: Clement Moore named all of Santa's reindeer in 1823 but one was missing. Rudolph wasn't added 1939 when the world was becoming a more dark and dangerous place. He didn't become famous until his story was put to music and recorded by Gene Autry in the early 1940s. For anyone with an interest in holidays, and Christmas in particular, or historical/cultural development around a holiday such as Christmas, I definitely recommend reading Flanders' book. This is not a religious treatise so don't come to the book expecting that. This is a biography of the celebration of Christmas not the original religious cause for it. A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    In this book, author Judith Flanders, attempts to tell the history of Christmas. This is told mainly from the point of view of festivities in England, America and Germany. and looks at the various traditions and how they came about. Was Christmas a more pious observance in the past (surprisingly, often not!) and how did festivals, even from Roman timesm become embroiled in the way Christmas was later celebrated? There are lots of questions which are answered in this book. Why Christma In this book, author Judith Flanders, attempts to tell the history of Christmas. This is told mainly from the point of view of festivities in England, America and Germany. and looks at the various traditions and how they came about. Was Christmas a more pious observance in the past (surprisingly, often not!) and how did festivals, even from Roman timesm become embroiled in the way Christmas was later celebrated? There are lots of questions which are answered in this book. Why Christmas falls on the 25th December, why people give presents, how the nativity scene came about and much more. So, if you wonder why we buy gifts, why we wrap them, or give Christmas cards, decorate our house, or a tree, eat Christmas dinner and where Santa came from, then this book is for you. It covers everything from Dickens to modern Christmas movies, and is an enjoyable read as the biggest Western celebration of the year approaches. I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    I adore festive reads, and Judith Flanders' Christmas: A Biography seemed like just the thing to read on a very cold December day. Whilst I loved the idea of it, I was not overly enamoured with Flanders' writing style. Some of her sentences were far too long, and others were abrupt; overall, her style felt quite inconsistent to me. There is very little commentary; rather, it feels like a lot of facts have simply been written down, normally at random. There are no linking passages for the most part, and a I adore festive reads, and Judith Flanders' Christmas: A Biography seemed like just the thing to read on a very cold December day. Whilst I loved the idea of it, I was not overly enamoured with Flanders' writing style. Some of her sentences were far too long, and others were abrupt; overall, her style felt quite inconsistent to me. There is very little commentary; rather, it feels like a lot of facts have simply been written down, normally at random. There are no linking passages for the most part, and a lot of the chapters had no clear focus to them, jumping around from one element to another throughout. Regardless, Christmas: A Biography has clearly been well researched, and is an informative tome with regard to our Christmas traditions and their origins. Whilst I did know a lot of the information which Flanders relays before I started to read, she certainly threw up a couple of surprises here and there. Christmas: A Biography is a strangely non-festive read, and it feels rather impersonal at times. One never gets the feeling that Flanders herself enjoys Christmas; rather, it feels as though this was rather a slog for her to write in places. However, Christmas: A Biography does look at our festivities from a wide range of different angles - religious, political, social, and historical to name but four, which is a point in its favour. I would have personally preferred the structure to be different, with one chapter focusing entirely on food, another on the origins of Santa Claus, another on the Christmas tree, for instance. This would make the collection far easier to dip in and out of.

  6. 5 out of 5

    T.D. Whittle

    I've decided to stop halfway through this one, as I did not manage to finish it over the holidays and now, in the high heat of an Australian summer with the trees undressed, the gifts opened, the carols sung, the feasts eaten, and the guests gone home . . . Well, its moment has passed. Mainly, though, I am stopping because I am not completely enjoying this book of Christmas. Christmas is my favourite holiday and Christmas is gorgeously presented, so I kept expecting myself to like it more than I've decided to stop halfway through this one, as I did not manage to finish it over the holidays and now, in the high heat of an Australian summer with the trees undressed, the gifts opened, the carols sung, the feasts eaten, and the guests gone home . . . Well, its moment has passed. Mainly, though, I am stopping because I am not completely enjoying this book of Christmas. Christmas is my favourite holiday and Christmas is gorgeously presented, so I kept expecting myself to like it more than I do. In fact, I continue to pick it up just to admire its cover and, beneath that cover, its lovely binding. Prior to Christmas, I'd never read Judith Flanders and I find her writing voice and style do not engross me at all. Apparently, I am not alone in this. This review by Kristy reflects my own opinions precisely: the facts are interesting, clearly stated, and seem well-researched, but the author's presence and personality are nowhere to be found. Dear Santa, Please inspire Bill Bryson to write a book of Christmas!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rachel McMillan

    An exceptional look at Christmas --- traditions ancient and modern and a surprisingly indepth view of cultural norms across the world. From a bird's eye view of Christmas at large, to a zoom in on the eclectic, dark and downright absurd, Flanders uses her accessible voice to extol the most magical time of year. "Each of us is a storehouse of Christmases," she writes, "A repository of all the happiness and sometimes sadness of seasons past." From mummers to wassail to Passion plays to An exceptional look at Christmas --- traditions ancient and modern and a surprisingly indepth view of cultural norms across the world. From a bird's eye view of Christmas at large, to a zoom in on the eclectic, dark and downright absurd, Flanders uses her accessible voice to extol the most magical time of year. "Each of us is a storehouse of Christmases," she writes, "A repository of all the happiness and sometimes sadness of seasons past." From mummers to wassail to Passion plays to Puritans, Christmas is an all-encompassing, dazzling and addictive look at masks and music, food and patronage, parades and pomp. From Martin Luther to Pepys--- Jefferson to Washington to Dickens to Henry VIII --- Christmas is highlighted at times political, sometimes moral, sometimes amoral and eventually a stick of velcro to which a hodgepodge of religious traditions stuck and stayed. Theological tenets inspired beautiful Christmas carols while 20th Century Commercialism placed Santa on floats and in malls. Food was constant, Massachusetts outlawed the holiday, sometimes it was fashionable, sometimes it was not... Scotland didn't recognize Christmas as a holiday until the 1950s. "The holiday seduced the population to drunkenness, gluttony, unlawful gaming, wantonness, uncleanness, lasciviousness, cursing, swearing and all to idleness." There is just so much in this festive tapestry. From American slave traditions to the immigrant colonial influence on the hodgepodge of traditions, Christmas is a pot to which an almost universal recipe has been added. And then there is the modernity "Dickens showed the world that modernity and Christmas are eminently suited to each other" Several chapters on the influence on the Victorians on our contemporary practices was a perfect side piece to The Man Who Invented Christmas. Christmas presents were wrapped because coal and suit were the constant bane of Victorian households. "Your packages reflect your personality", thus became an easy way to capitalize on festive ornamentation. As a Torontonian, I was excited to learn that the first Christmas department store parade ( and the one that inspired Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade) took place at Eatons in the early 20th Century. Likewise, Eatons eventually televised the parade--- inspiring, again, Macy's in the States --- a tradition that is known to this day. No matter your race, religion or creed. No matter if you prefer real trees to fake .... from Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, Christmas will challenge you to think about how Christmas fits into the fabric of your family. It is also a treatise on nostalgia: noting how when so many spoke of olden days they were merely thinking of times before Christmas was as we know it now. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is engrossing, exceptionally well-researched and a hole in which you will easily fall down, excavating one wonderland after another.... It even takes a gendered approach to the holiday, carefully examining the role of men and women in the Christmas preparations and advertisements. Christmas becomes a time for us to reflect on the "idealized version of ourselves" armed with a Christian infusion borne of a need to dispel the wantonness and debauchery of a roman Pagan festival. Then, it became a balm. "Christmas has assimilated traditions from half a dozen cultures and countries and therefore appears endlessly flexible." While Flanders shows us that rules and regulations for the holiday have changed immensely over the centuries, she believes, as I do that at the centre and crux is a spirit of the best of humanity. So take your symbols, transpose traditions, transform Christmas from your descendants into a resurrected and refurbished season of its own. "Part of the meaning of Christmas", she writes" is repetition." We are all easy portals for the Christmases that have filled us. And whatever it means to you is valid and wonderful--- but knowing HOW we got here is the buoyant joy of a wonderful book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    4 Stars It was so enjoyable and a perfect read for those who love both Christmas and history. I highly recommend it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    At many points in this book, too many, it feels like listing. The use of icons to illustrate what is being talked about was nice though.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Teri

    This book is exactly what it says it is, a biography of Christmas and all things related. The history begins from the time of Christ, analyzing the "reason for the season" and from there, progresses through time on how the holiday has progressed. It follows the religious and political aspects, as well as traditions, food, drinks, celebrations, songs, entertainment from around the world. Flanders even covers the scary side of evil elves and characters such as Krampus. This is truly the This book is exactly what it says it is, a biography of Christmas and all things related. The history begins from the time of Christ, analyzing the "reason for the season" and from there, progresses through time on how the holiday has progressed. It follows the religious and political aspects, as well as traditions, food, drinks, celebrations, songs, entertainment from around the world. Flanders even covers the scary side of evil elves and characters such as Krampus. This is truly the go-to book about the holiday season and is thorough yet entertaining.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura Harrison

    This book will really help you get into the holiday spirit. By the time you are done with Christmas: A Biography, there won't be anything you don't know about Christmas. The origin, myth, facts-Judith Flanders answered every possible question. I only wish the book was filled with more photos and illustrations. It truly would have enhanced the volume. The cover art is fun, pretty and interesting. Christmas: A Biography is a must have for holiday fans and would also make a great gift.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James

    Flanders offers an engaging, highly-detailed historical look at the celebration of Christmas. While its billed as a history of Christmas and practices around it, it really is largely about Christmas since 1600, primarily in England and the United States, as well as Germany. While the forms Christmas has taken in these countries is fascinating, it is to the neglect of how Christmas is practiced in non-Western countries, especially countries where Christians are a minority. Unfortunately the autho Flanders offers an engaging, highly-detailed historical look at the celebration of Christmas. While its billed as a history of Christmas and practices around it, it really is largely about Christmas since 1600, primarily in England and the United States, as well as Germany. While the forms Christmas has taken in these countries is fascinating, it is to the neglect of how Christmas is practiced in non-Western countries, especially countries where Christians are a minority. Unfortunately the author seems to have little interest in the evolution of Christian practices related to Christmas, and only gives a few paragraphs to the nativity story and the commemoration of it. The author asserts that the holiday is really consumerist at its core, and there's significant evidence for that - but her bibliography shows that she has considered very few religious sources, and thus likely did not analyze sources that do not conform to her hypothesis. That said the primary sources she does use on how persons did celebrate Christmas in the 17th-19th centuries are indeed interesting - but it is limited in geographic scope.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bloss ♡

    After weeks of dithering and being on the fence about this, I finally ordered this book when it went on sale locally. I was hoping for a festive read to get me in the spirit leading up to Christmas; unfortunately, this was not the case. This reads like a textbook that’s been copied and pasted from myriad different sources. There is no emotion here. There is no story. There is much overlap and nothing threading all the components together. It is a surprisingly dry and boring read regardless of th After weeks of dithering and being on the fence about this, I finally ordered this book when it went on sale locally. I was hoping for a festive read to get me in the spirit leading up to Christmas; unfortunately, this was not the case. This reads like a textbook that’s been copied and pasted from myriad different sources. There is no emotion here. There is no story. There is much overlap and nothing threading all the components together. It is a surprisingly dry and boring read regardless of the subject matter. While I cannot deny that this is well-written and meticulously researched, it was not an enjoyable read and ultimately, it was a chore to slog through.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie ((Strazzybooks))

    A very readable social history that was really fun around the holidays. It was interesting to think about the roots while participating in the traditions and culture of Christmas.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected. At a minimum, any book about Christmas should be fun, an enjoyable read. This was not. This was a very dry look at the history of Christmas, with an endless bombardment of facts and figures down to the minutest detail. A lot of this detail was of course pretty interesting, but at times the interesting stuff was lost in the midst of the unnecessary detail. It was essentially an academic look at a non-academic subject, a sociological history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    "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 Chr "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. I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

    Judith Flanders has written some excellent books about the Victorian house and the Victorian city and so I looked forward to Christmas: A Biography eagerly. Unfortunately, although there is a lot of information about the origins and development of various Christmas customs, much of what she writes is for me not entirely believable. A short synopsis: Olde English (and German and Scandinavian) Christmas traditions are neither as old as we have been led to believe, nor do they or the hol Judith Flanders has written some excellent books about the Victorian house and the Victorian city and so I looked forward to Christmas: A Biography eagerly. Unfortunately, although there is a lot of information about the origins and development of various Christmas customs, much of what she writes is for me not entirely believable. A short synopsis: Olde English (and German and Scandinavian) Christmas traditions are neither as old as we have been led to believe, nor do they or the holiday itself have strong connections to Christianity. In the last 200 years the holiday has been taken over entirely by greedy Capitalists. I suspect Flanders lives in that elite Progressive bubble we hear so much about. She knows no Christians and sees very little Christian activity around her and assumes that there is and has been very little of either anywhere at any time. I have always believed the details in Flanders' books. Then I read in this book that the Christmas season is "the precipitating factor in an annual peak in divorce rates, or the period when domestic violence rises by a third." How an annual divorce rate can be tied to a season I'm not certain. The rise in violence after football games has been thoroughly debunked, although there are those who continue to believe it in the face of significant evidence to the contrary, and this makes me very skeptical of the Christmas violence theory. Her mention of Thanksgiving falling on November 31st in 1939 finished off any credibility she had left.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sandra

    So, as my personal Christmas tradition, I've read a Christmas story. I am not big on Christmas music, which is why I am annoyed when they start Jingle Bells a week after my birthday (on average). This however was a book I could not pass up even with all it's carols. I love history and Judith Flanders writes some of the best I've ever read. This time as well, she didn't disappoint. This was informative and well written and proved that, like everything else, Christmas has it's fashions that come a So, as my personal Christmas tradition, I've read a Christmas story. I am not big on Christmas music, which is why I am annoyed when they start Jingle Bells a week after my birthday (on average). This however was a book I could not pass up even with all it's carols. I love history and Judith Flanders writes some of the best I've ever read. This time as well, she didn't disappoint. This was informative and well written and proved that, like everything else, Christmas has it's fashions that come and go. It was especially interesting to read that there is no such thing as a traditional Christmas and that classics are so easily made and undone. So, all in all a good read for someone who is interested in history as I am.

  19. 5 out of 5

    KT

    As a lover of Christmas, I thought I knew what this time of year was about and the origins of our traditions but this book opened my eyes to how little I really knew. This is an in-depth exploration of Christmas and all it entails and is a perfect read for those who get excited at the first sign of decorations in the shop or are always on the look out for more knowledge to impress friends and family especially over the  Christmas dinner. It takes you through the evolution of Christmas inclu As a lover of Christmas, I thought I knew what this time of year was about and the origins of our traditions but this book opened my eyes to how little I really knew. This is an in-depth exploration of Christmas and all it entails and is a perfect read for those who get excited at the first sign of decorations in the shop or are always on the look out for more knowledge to impress friends and family especially over the  Christmas dinner. It takes you through the evolution of Christmas including religion, festivities, books, gifts and decorations. It is a book I long to have a physical copy of on my bookcase to dip into every year. I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review by NetGalley

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jack Phoenix

    With rich research and writing, Flanders effectively takes the reader on a Polar Express through time and cultures, deftly illustrating how Christmas the wonderful, festive mess of a holiday that Christmas is.

  21. 5 out of 5

    James Hendrickson

    Very interesting and useful I learned a great deal from this and it was surprisingly interesting. Christmas is a fascinating and very rapid myth generator so that within one or two generations new myths are created as old time Christmas wonder.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Adam English, author of a book on the real-life Santa Claus, reviews it here.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brittnee

    Rarely do I decide not to finish a book, but this is one of those times. First, this eBook is a hot mess. It's visually disruptive. I couldn't take it. The content is heavy for a book about Christmas. The organization was jumpy. The tone felt very negative, which was odd for such heavy content. If you want to drown me in historical facts about Christmas, fine, but don't be a jerk about it. I don't recommend this title.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten

    This is a MUST read for Christmas fans, lovers, and Christmas enthusiasts. It speaks of Christmas around the world to our culture- to our home. It makes you think about Christmas in the media -books, films, tv... It will make you wonder of Christmas - truth - our view on truth - to our beliefs. First and foremost, Christmas day established by Christian Church to mark the nativity of Christ. Christmas Holiday- the history, the myths, the traditions, the stori This is a MUST read for Christmas fans, lovers, and Christmas enthusiasts. It speaks of Christmas around the world to our culture- to our home. It makes you think about Christmas in the media -books, films, tv... It will make you wonder of Christmas - truth - our view on truth - to our beliefs. First and foremost, Christmas day established by Christian Church to mark the nativity of Christ. Christmas Holiday- the history, the myths, the traditions, the stories, the symbols... I truly enjoyed this book. I was amazed by: *the information on Lewis and Clark's expedition exchanging gifts *John Newberry (children's publisher) publishing an ad in 1750 for a book which leads to newspaper ads for other items and ... ads today *1882 and the first Christmas light on a tree *1850 and the first Christmas card I highly recommend this book!!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Megan Tristao

    Some interesting tidbits, but overall was not engaged by the book. I also found the structure unhelpful - perhaps chapters for different aspects of Christmas (date, gifts, Santa Claus, etc.) would have been easier to digest and understand, or a chronological evolution of the holiday in different cultures. 2.5 stars.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This presents a more secular view of the history of Christmas, a topic I find myself drawn to every December. Flanders obviously did extensive research for book, and it's presented in a straight-forward, no-frills kind of way. Which is fine, but it falls kind of flat as a result. I've read other books similar in theme that had more heart and humor to them. This one just comes off as dry and textbook-ish. Still, the information is good, and I do like how nostalgia and whimsy are not the driving f This presents a more secular view of the history of Christmas, a topic I find myself drawn to every December. Flanders obviously did extensive research for book, and it's presented in a straight-forward, no-frills kind of way. Which is fine, but it falls kind of flat as a result. I've read other books similar in theme that had more heart and humor to them. This one just comes off as dry and textbook-ish. Still, the information is good, and I do like how nostalgia and whimsy are not the driving forces in this discussion of Christmas's history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    I had expected this to be a “merry” book, detailing traditions through the years and customs in other countries. Instead it was a very dry history. Full of facts and footnotes, it reads like a textbook. Disappointing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book focuses on one of my favourites holidays and seasons: Christmas! The book talks about festivities, rituals and the history of the holiday itself. I loved learning more about how people were being excessive so soon after the first few decades after Christmas started. What is great about Christmas is that it fuses various religious traditions, pagan celebrations along with individuals countries and family traditions. This book explores all aspects of the holiday such as tress, gift givin This book focuses on one of my favourites holidays and seasons: Christmas! The book talks about festivities, rituals and the history of the holiday itself. I loved learning more about how people were being excessive so soon after the first few decades after Christmas started. What is great about Christmas is that it fuses various religious traditions, pagan celebrations along with individuals countries and family traditions. This book explores all aspects of the holiday such as tress, gift giving and Santa Claus. I absolutely loved reading this book and it has gotten me excited for the Christmas season even though its October! This book is 5 stars out of 5 stars! Thanks go much to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda Lomazow

    A wonderful look at Christmas full of its special traditions such as gift giving ,trees the holiday joy.Surprising& interesting look at the history of the Christmas celebration up to modern times,Would make a lovely holiday gift.Thanks @ Net galley&StMartins for advance reading copy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book reinforced my dislike of Christmas - turns out the materialism, unabashed consumption, talking to people you haven't talked to since last Christmas, unattainable expectations, etc. have been a part of Christmas from (almost) the beginning. I smiled though, to find out that my tradition of watching "The Shining" every Christmas Eve has a basis in history! (Ghost stories are historically a part of Christmas). I think that this book should be given to anyone railing about the "War on Chri This book reinforced my dislike of Christmas - turns out the materialism, unabashed consumption, talking to people you haven't talked to since last Christmas, unattainable expectations, etc. have been a part of Christmas from (almost) the beginning. I smiled though, to find out that my tradition of watching "The Shining" every Christmas Eve has a basis in history! (Ghost stories are historically a part of Christmas). I think that this book should be given to anyone railing about the "War on Christmas" - it was actually ultraconservative Christians who outlawed Christmas for a period of time, and it's been more of a secular than a religious holiday since the middle ages. I also think we should take up the lost Christmas tradition of cross-dressing.

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