Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Christmas: A Candid History” as Want to Read:
Christmas: A Candid History
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Christmas: A Candid History

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  146 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
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 J ...more
ebook, 187 pages
Published October 10th 2007 by University of California Press (first published January 1st 2007)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Christmas, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Christmas

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 358)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Deborah Markus
Dec 19, 2013 Deborah Markus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderfully readable and succinct history of a most misunderstood holiday. The author is a Christian who understands that people have been throwing late-December parties for much more than two thousand years. As he puts it, "A midwinter carnival is a very understandable way for human beings to cope with winter, and yes, the widespread human impulse to party in the face of winter has influenced the development of Christmas." Early Christians, however, did *not* celebrate Christmas; and ...more
Jo
Dec 27, 2015 Jo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: 2015-read
Really informative! Christmas never was what we think it was.
This book gives a very readable overview of the history of Christmas, from the pre-Christian to the biblical, on to the way traditions snowballed across Europe, the way St Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus, a history of the modern Christmas in America, and the commercialization of the holidays (which the author shows developed along with our modern Christmas). He talks briefly about ways we might "recapture" the joy of the season, alt
...more
Diana
Jan 12, 2014 Diana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great history and insights in this book. It can definitely help calm your personal Christmas anxiety to know that it started back in Roman times and therefore predates its ties to the nativity story by 200 years.

Starting in late December, the Romans held the party of the year, called Saturnalia, to celebrate the harvest. It was a week-long time of merriment with no work but much drinking, feasting, decorating with greens and gifting of candles and wax fruit. Sound familiar?

The book further reco
...more
Cormacjosh
May 14, 2014 Cormacjosh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for work so that it can be aired during the Christmas season. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know personally, but it is an excellent concise and readable history of Christmas’ progress from pagan times to our modern day. I added a few well known carols and other pop songs as interludes in my recording and I’m rather proud of the outcome. It will always be a great amusement to me that I read this holiday book during a heatwave where each day was above 90 F, and I dra ...more
Emily
Dec 18, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, meridian
It was fascinating to learn that the early Christian church did not celebrate Jesus' birth. Early Christianity was, according to Mr. Forbes, “an Easter-centered religion” which focused on the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, Origen, an influential early Christian writer, roundly condemned the recognition of birthdays. After all, the Bible records that both Pharaoh and Herod, hardly paragons of virtue, celebrated their birthdays in nefarious ways – the Pharaoh killed his chief baker whi ...more
Erika RS
This short book gives a fairly thorough overview of the history of Christmas. If you have read any of the annual articles about Christmas and its history, you'll likely have heard some (but not all!) of what Forbes mentions. Forbes does a good job of showing how Christmas, even though a Christian holiday, has always co-existed, often uneasily, with non-religious celebrations.

Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned was that Christmas as we know it is just as manufactured a holiday as modern
...more
Rachel
Dec 11, 2014 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian
Dec 24, 2015 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very short and somewhat dry but the information contained was very interesting. It told the history of the holiday of Christmas, from the pagan roots of the Yul festival, through the birth of Jesus and the discovery of Santa Claus and the eventual commercialization. It called into question many of the things that I thought were true about Christmas and made me a bit more aware of the history of this holiday.
Kerith
Jun 03, 2011 Kerith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: seasonal, historical
I really enjoyed this book. This is a quick overview to a social history of Christmas celebrations, mostly in America but not limited to that. The author's attitude is lighthearted yet fascinated, and his Christian outlook does not negate the fact that other faiths can read this and find it helpful and interesting.
He has a great bibliography for anyone wanting to go further. He recommends, as I do, Nissenbaum's BATTLE FOR CHRISTMAS, among others.
I really appreciated his chapter on "Wrestling Wit
...more
Rupert Matthews
This book is OK, but it suffers from a number of irritating defects. First, like many academics writing for the populist market, the author labours some points, takes some knowledge for granted and can be a bit preachy in tone. My main moan, however, is that the book is mostly about Xmas in the USA and has a very USA-centric view of Christmas. Just moaning.
Brian
Oct 30, 2011 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I saw this book at the bookstore and thought it looked interesting. Forbes is a theology professor. This is not an in-depth history of Christmas, but rather a general taste of how our Christmas customs and traditions came to be--especially in England and the United States.

This was a fascinating read. I knew that many of our traditions stemmed from pagan rituals, however I didn't realize how recent the enormous popularity of Christmas came to be. It really did not become an important religious or
...more
Amanda
Jan 22, 2015 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
I am now fascinated with the roots of all that we celebrate as Christmas. Great book, and easy to read.
Victoria
This is truly more of a 3.5 star rating. I loved it. The book told a grand history about origins of so many Christmas traditions both Christian and pagan. The author is a Christian, but you really can't tell until the last chapter of the book. It was a pretty unbiased and excellent documentation of things such as Saturnalia, St. Nicholas, and the birth of Christ. It was something I wanted everyone to know about. If only they knew about Christmas trees and the commercialization of the holiday. It ...more
Christian
Jan 23, 2016 Christian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-researched overview of the history and evolution of Christmas. Well written, well referenced...informative and entertaining read.
E G
Jan 07, 2016 E G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable, quick read. I like his stance on the whole holiday!
Aaron Calvert
Dec 26, 2014 Aaron Calvert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good starting point for Christmas research. Brief, accessible, and includes an annotated bibliography.
Beverly
Apr 04, 2015 Beverly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
2nd reading December, 2012
Susan
Jan 05, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating, fun read about the history and evolution of Christmas. Filled with interesting trivia about Christmas trees, Santa Claus, gift giving, and much more. Well researched and written. The author is Christian, but he gives a very unbiased history, and through his research comes to the conclusion (as many others have) that Christmas is and always has been more of a secular holiday. Christians have a hard time keeping Christ in Christmas because he wasn't really in it to begin with. Great i ...more
Sally
Nov 26, 2012 Sally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engagingly written history of how Christmas became the holiday it is, from its pagan roots in the Roman empire and northern Europe, through its transformations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Thesis: Christmas is the modern face of age-old mid-winter festivals and has always been a difficult celebration to Christianize. I would recommend this over most such histories I've read; and it has a particularly useful annotated bibliography.
Margaret Sankey
A social history of Christmas, from the desperate need to party in the depths of a pre-modern dark winter, early Christian co-opting of Saturnalia, Eastern and Western church arguing about dates, German royalty spreading Christmas trees, wrapped presents as a Victorian demonstration of impulse control, FDR moving Thanksgiving to extend the holiday shopping season and the flood of movies and music manufactured for popular consumption.
Priscilla
Oct 20, 2008 Priscilla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really love this book. The author wanted to discover the reason Americans celebrate Christmas and why we celebrate the holiday the way we do. I really enjoyed learning about how Christmas spread through the world alongside Christianity. The book also changed the way I think about tradition and challenged me to think about how I celebrate Christmas so that my holiday can be more peace and less hectic.
Stacy Rose
Oct 03, 2010 Stacy Rose rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been reading Christmas origin books to help me write better letters from Santa Claus, and this one is really good. It is so well researched, but not dry at all. I love learning about why we celebrate the way we do. How most of our traditions are from pre-Christian mid-winter festivals that we just can't let go. It just amazes me that so much of what we do in many holidays goes back to ancient Rome.
Mary
Jun 03, 2009 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you, like I, have wondered just what Christmas is really all about, then Christmas: A Candid History is what might explain it for you. How did we get to where we are in this major holiday celebration? Is it really all about the birth of Jesus Christ? What about all these presents, the wrapping paper, the cards? I recommend this book for answers. It is easy to read and worth the time.
Alli
Dec 16, 2009 Alli rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-09
There really wasn't anything in here I didn't already know, and on one of the very last pages there was a quote that SERIOUSLY pissed me off. I try to put that aside though, because it was a pretty concise history nicely put together. The author did have a bit of a Christian bias but he tried his best to hide it and he did a pretty good job up until the end there.
Claire
Jan 07, 2015 Claire rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, level-headed explanation of how Christmas as we know it today evolved from midwinter celebrations and onward.
Eric Hoefler
Apr 09, 2010 Eric Hoefler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, folklore
Recommended for anyone interested in the roots and evolution of the Christmas holiday. I would have appreciated a more detailed analysis of specific traditions and their roots to pagan practices and beliefs, but given the slim size, it's still an interesting and informative read.
Jenn
Jun 02, 2013 Jenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic quick little read - great background, whetting my appetite for another book called the Battle for Christmas!

Actually makes me feel like celebrating a mid-winter return of sunlight instead of avoiding it altogether! I think I'm celebrating Sol Invictus this year!
Sallie
Jan 17, 2013 Sallie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was required reading for a history class I took. I expected to hate it. I'm not into overly celebrated holidays. Turns out this book was a well thought and written book on the history of the traditions we still use today and why we do.
Jeanette Brewer
Dec 27, 2012 Jeanette Brewer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a short book of 153 pages, this manages to cover a fascinating subject in sufficient detail to make you feel you have really learned some things from reading it and gives you plenty if information on doing additional research. Great book!
Cheryl
Apr 22, 2016 Cheryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative and interesting!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Battle for Christmas
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits
  • Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night
  • The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market
  • Treasures of Tutankhamun: National Gallery of Art, Field Museum of Natural History & the University of Chicago, New Orleans Museum of Art
  • How to Prove God Does Not Exist: The Complete Guide to Validating Atheism
  • Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween
  • Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas
  • The World of Jesus: Making Sense Of The People And Places Of Jesus' Day
  • Worlds Torn Asunder: a Holocaust Survivor's Memoir of Hope
  • Oh My Baby, Little One
  • Tangled Roots: The Appalachian Trail and American Environmental Politics
  • Tutankhamen: Life and Death of a Pharaoh
  • Calories & Corsets: A History of Dieting Over 2,000 Years
  • A Farm In The Hidewood:  My South Dakota Home
  • Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder: Young Pioneer (Childhood of Famous Americans)
  • Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War

Share This Book