Christmas: A Candid History / Edition 1

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Written for everyone who loves and is simultaneously driven crazy by the holiday season, Christmas: A Candid History provides 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.


For three centuries Christians did not celebrate Christmas?

Puritans in England and New England made Christmas observances illegal?

St. Nicholas is an elf in 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?

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this brief sketch of the history of Christmas celebrations and traditions, Forbes draws heavily on previous scholarship by the likes of Stephen Nissenbaum (The Battle for Christmas) and Leigh Schmidt (Consumer Rites), offering an overview that is informed yet concise. Forbes opens by rehearsing biblical scholars' debates about Jesus' birth, showing how little we can glean from the New Testament, then moves into discussions of winter festivals in early church history and the Roman Empire. The more compelling chapters are the latter ones on Christmas in America, discussing its surprising rise to prominence in the mid-19th century. Although this is a secondary work, Forbes does add some tidbits to the debates; for example, he pinpoints cartoonist Thomas Nast as primarily responsible for the mythology of Santa's elf-ridden workshop in a far-off North Pole. Small historical errors mar the text, as when Forbes fails to distinguish between Puritans and Pilgrims, or credits British activist William Wilberforce with the Victorian moral revival, when Wilberforce died before Victoria's accession. However, the book is valuable for its well-proven insistence that Christmas has always been as much a social and commercial festival as a religious one, debunking naïve assumptions that it used to be a purely spiritual holiday in a bygone halcyon age. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Historian Magazine

“Colloquial, straightforward, and colorful. . . . Forbes makes the details delicious.”
Santa Fe New Mexican

“Wonderfully perceptive as well as entertaining.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520251045
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/10/2007
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 187
  • Sales rank: 1,414,605
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce David Forbes, Professor of Religious Studies at Morningside College, is coeditor, with Jeffrey Mahan of Religion and Popular Culture in America (UC Press) and coeditor, with Jeanne Halgren Kilde, of Rapture, Revelation, and the End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series.
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Table of Contents


1. First There Was Winter
2. Christmas Comes Late
3. Christmas Is Like a Snowball
4. From Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus
5. And Then There Was Money
6. Wrestling with Christmas

Annotated Bibliography

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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