Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ebook of the Week - Christmas in America: A History

Restad, Penne L.  Christmas in America: A History.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

In Christmas in America, Penne Restad reveals that Christmas has always been an ambiguous meld of sacred thoughts
and worldly actions, as well as a reflection of our changing society. In these 240 pages, Restad captures the rise and transformation of our most universal national holiday.  Christmas was sometimes solemn, sometimes wildly social -- and sometimes not celebrated at all. Virginians hunted, danced, and feasted, city dwellers flooded the streets in raucous demonstrations, and Puritan New Englanders denounced the whole affair. Restad shows that as times changed, Christmas changed--but it always grew in popularity.

In the early 1800s, New York served as an epicenter of the newly emerging holiday, drawing on its roots as a Dutch colony (St. Nicholas was particularly popular in the Netherlands, even after the Reformation), and aided by such men as Washington Irving. In 1822, another New Yorker named Clement Clarke Moore penned a poem now known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," virtually inventing the modern Santa Claus. Well-to-do townspeople displayed a German novelty, the decorated fir tree, in their parlors; an enterprising printer discovered the money to be made from Christmas cards; and a hodgepodge of year-end celebrations began to coalesce around December 25 and the figure of Santa. The homecoming significance of the holiday increased with the Civil War, and by the end of the nineteenth century a full- fledged national holiday had materialized, forged out of borrowed and invented custom alike, and driven by a passion for gift-giving. By the twentieth century, Christmas had  seeped into every niche of our conscious and unconscious lives to become a festival of epic proportions. Restad carries the story through to our own time, revealing the inescapable presence, and ambiguous meaning, of Christmas in contemporary culture.

Previewed by John Breitmeyer.  Click here to read the book.

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