The Origins of Christmas / Edition 1

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When was Christmas first celebrated? How did December 25 become the official date for Christmas? How did the Bible's "magi from the East" become three kings named Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar who rode camels from three different continents to worship the newborn Christ? Why did medieval and Renaissance artists often portray Joseph as an old man? When did the first Christmas music appear? And who was the real St. Nicholas, and how did he become one of the most famous of al Christian saints? These and many other questions are answered in The Origins of Christmas. The story of the origins of Christmas is not well known, but it is a fascinating tale. It begins when Christmas did not exist, and finishes when Christmas had become an integral part of Christian life and Western culture. The Origins of Christmas covers a variety of topics in a concise and accessible style and is suitable for group discussions. Chapters are "The Birth of Jesus," "Creating the Christmas Story," "Creating Christmas Day and the Christmas Season," "Jesus, Mary, the Magi, and an Obscure Asian Bishop," and "The Popular Acceptance of Christmas. "Joseph F. Kelly, PhD, who chairs the religious studies department at John Carroll University, is also active in the religious education apostolate of the Diocese of Cleveland. The World of the Early Christians (1997), The Problem of Evil in the Western Tradition (2002), and Responding to Evil (2003), published by Liturgical Press, are among his nine previous books.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

This brief, but well researched book is recommended not only for academic readers, but also appeals to public interest. Kelly succeeds in emphasizing the secular element of Christmas which flourishes alongside the religious element. Early Christians brought pagan elements into the celebration of their Christmas celebrations, thereby adding value to the Christmas season.
Theological Studies

This book would be an excellent 'all-household' read for the twelve days.
Alan Hommerding

This volume . . . serves well to dispel myths, explain legends, and name key figures for any reader interested in the subject.

What a wonderful little book this is—full of historical and scriptural information! It is readable and accessible to all. But best of all—what a splendid antidote to the commercialism of the Christmas season to be reminded of the true meaning of this happy, holy day.
Catholic Library World

One of the many pleasures this book has to offer is the chance to recognize familiar faces--whether those of Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar or those of the ox and the ass--and to learn more about where they come from and why they are now so much a part of our understanding of Christmas. It shows the power of a good story, a story that Kelly calls 'a delight to research and tell.' That delight, so evident throughout this book, makes it a pleasure to read.
Catholic Studies

Any historian of the origins of Christmas confronts bewilderingly complex and uncertain evidence, and the need to be in command of a good many disciplines. The state and breadth of the evidence, moreover, would seem to make it impossible to convey a sense of the holiday's beginnings without misleading oversimplification. In The Origins of Christmas, however, Joseph F. Kelly does an outstanding job of making difficult material accessible to a non-academic audience, and of giving a perfectly clear account of what in less certain hands would surely be murky. Kelly's selection of passages to illustrate and explain the holiday's development is exemplary, and even the reader with no background in the Bible, early Christianity, or the ancient and medieval worlds, will know exactly what is going on and why at each point in his book. Most readers' questions about the origins of the holiday, such as why we think of three kings when the biblical Nativity accounts mention neither kings nor a

The diverse origins of Christmas will come as a fascinating surprise to most who know only the Sunday School version of the Christmas story from their childhoods. The Origins of Christmas is very highly recommended and informative reading.
Midwest Book Review

With its colorful binding, interesting illustrations, wide coverage of topics, and modest cost, the book is a valuable source of information and makes a fine Advent-Christmas gift.
Prairie Messenger

Library Journal
Scholar Kelly (Responding to Evil) here examines the story of the evolving celebration of Christmas, an account of creative imagination, accommodation, and necessity. He begins with a discussion of biblical and apocryphal accounts and of theological motifs that by the fourth century resulted in a "mass" and a growing tradition that in the 11th century came to be celebrated as Christ's Mass, Christmas. Early bishops had viewed "advent" as "the coming" (Christ's coming to be baptized), but a redefined "advent" centered on the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, an entire liturgical season was developed to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Art and music contributed, and over time the door opened for the tales of Magi and St. Nicholas the miracle worker-even for relics that included straw from the crib! Although the book seems intended for a general audience, it is not organized in a fashion that would hold the attention of a casual reader. Because of its extensive details, it will appeal more to scholarly readers. Recommended with reservations to larger libraries.-George Westerlund, Palmyra, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814629840
  • Publisher: Liturgical Press, The
  • Publication date: 6/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 4.60 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.41 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph F. Kelly, PhD, chair of the department of theology and religious studies at John Carroll University, is active in adult religious education in the Greater Cleveland area. The World of the Early Christians (1997), The Problem of Evil in the Western Tradition (2002), and History and Heresy (2012) are among his nine previous books published by Liturgical Press.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Introduction xi
Chapter 1 The Birth of Jesus 1
Chapter 2 Creating the Christmas Story 31
Chapter 3 Creating Christmas Day and the Christmas Season 53
Chapter 4 Jesus, Mary, the Magi, and an Obscure Asian Bishop 79
Chapter 5 The Popular Acceptance of Christmas 111
Epilogue 129
Appendix The Gospel Infancy Narratives 131
Further Reading 143
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2005

    Book takes revisionist/modernist view

    I am only commenting on the first few chapters of The Origins of Christmas, as I cannot continue reading the book. From page one, the book has a revisionist slant. The book insinuates, sometimes asserts, that the Gospel of Luke was purposely written to fit Old Testament parallels, that the Gospel of Matthew was not written by the apostle Matthew, and that the Magi and star were invented for the Nativity story. All of these points are contrary to tradition. This work takes the minority and often radical view among theologians. If you are looking to deepen your faith as a Christian, I would not recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

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