John's Reviews > The Battle for Christmas

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum
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's review
Sep 14, 08

it was amazing
Read in January, 2003

Fascinating. Especially in light of the Fox News meme "liberals are fighting a cultural war on Christmas" propagated on TV every winter. It was social conservatives in New England (led by the theologically liberal Unitarians!) who banned Christmas 200 years ago. Huh?

Christmas celebrations were a social carnival with roots in A Day of Misrule rituals marking the shortest day of the year. Public drunkenness and fornication was celebrated, along with barely tempered home invasions in which lords and ladies were forced to provide food and drink to their lower class guests or suffer the consequences. Bring us some figgy pudding, we won't go until we get some... indeed.

Scheduling church services on this day to reinforce piety and temperate behavior didn't rein in the behavior that caused fear and dread among the moneyed classes. But a top down social "revolution" did: a reinterpretation of all of the myths and symbols of the holiday away from an upside down social "gift exchange" between classes and toward a family holiday focused on giving gifts to children. Now that's a tradition the moneyed classes could support -- retail!

Controversy over the religious birthday question is not addressed directly, but I've read elsewhere that the early church deliberately selected an existing holiday for the scheduling of their savior's birthday in order to pump up its importance by latching onto an already socially important day. Put it all together and.... well, at a Christmas party a few years back, I related all of this to another guest. The next year at a similar gathering I encountered her again, and she said "You're the one who ruined Christmas for me!" Naturally, I apologized.

I pick this book up every year. And while I'm annoyed by the social science style of writing and organization, I find it indispensable.
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