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Christmas: A Biography

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  715 ratings  ·  170 reviews
A critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author explores the Christmas holiday, from the original festival through present day traditions.

Christmas has always been a magical time. Or has it? Thirty years after the first recorded Christmas, one archbishop was already complaining that his flock was spending the day, not in worship, but in dancing and feasting to ex
Hardcover, 246 pages
Published October 24th 2017 by Thomas Dunne Books
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Average rating 3.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  715 ratings  ·  170 reviews

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Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: christmas
“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f-----n Kay. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a------s this side of the nuthouse.”
- Clark W. Griswo
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: xx2017-completed
Some of our GoodReads friends recently read and reviewed this book so when I saw a chance to read and review this eBook, I jumped at it.

This is a biography of the Christmas season in every sense of the word “biography”. Even though in many ways it reads like a story, it is based on extensive research and facts gleaned from many historical sources, along with newer ones. Rather how Christmas itself evolved, in fact.

There are many interesting footnotes, and one of the most interesting to me was th
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
This truly is a biography of Christmas. It includes history, sociology, religious history, folk customs and myths, of many countries in providing a picture over time of the celebration we call Christmas. The primary sources are Northern European, English, and the polyglot American where so many cultures meet. But there are also discussions of Spanish and Mexican influences, African-American Kwanzaa, Jewish festival of lights, all events that happen at the same mid-winter time. This is a cultural ...more
Tom Quinn
Dec 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Informative but extremely dull.

2 stars.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book, author Judith Flanders, attempts to tell the history of Christmas. This is told mainly from the point of view of festivities in England, America and Germany. and looks at the various traditions and how they came about. Was Christmas a more pious observance in the past (surprisingly, often not!) and how did festivals, even from Roman timesm become embroiled in the way Christmas was later celebrated?

There are lots of questions which are answered in this book. Why Christmas falls on t
Dec 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: december-2017, kindle
I adore festive reads, and Judith Flanders' Christmas: A Biography seemed like just the thing to read on a very cold December day. Whilst I loved the idea of it, I was not overly enamoured with Flanders' writing style. Some of her sentences were far too long, and others were abrupt; overall, her style felt quite inconsistent to me. There is very little commentary; rather, it feels like a lot of facts have simply been written down, normally at random. There are no linking passages for the most pa ...more
T.D. Whittle
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviews, dnf
I've decided to stop halfway through this one, as I did not manage to finish it over the holidays and now, in the high heat of an Australian summer with the trees undressed, the gifts opened, the carols sung, the feasts eaten, and the guests gone home . . . Well, its moment has passed.

Mainly, though, I am stopping because I am not completely enjoying this book of Christmas. Christmas is my favourite holiday and Christmas is gorgeously presented, so I kept expecting myself to like it more than I
Rachel McMillan
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An exceptional look at Christmas --- traditions ancient and modern and a surprisingly indepth view of cultural norms across the world. From a bird's eye view of Christmas at large, to a zoom in on the eclectic, dark and downright absurd, Flanders uses her accessible voice to extol the most magical time of year.

"Each of us is a storehouse of Christmases," she writes, "A repository of all the happiness and sometimes sadness of seasons past."

From mummers to wassail to Passion plays to Puritans, Ch
Sarah {The Bookish Knitter}
4 Stars

It was so enjoyable and a perfect read for those who love both Christmas and history. I highly recommend it.
At many points in this book, too many, it feels like listing.

The use of icons to illustrate what is being talked about was nice though.
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
The good: I learned a lot about the holiday, especially about the origins. And I know now about the origins of a Bracebridge Dinner.
The bad: no structure. There is no structure whatsoever. At first, this works reasonably well and the writing is interesting enough. But after about the year 1500 (the book is very bradly structured chrononically - in the broadest sense, i.e. skipping 200 years back or forward), the text is intersperesed with long extracts from personal journals. They are probably s
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
So, as my personal Christmas tradition, I've read a Christmas story. I am not big on Christmas music, which is why I am annoyed when they start Jingle Bells a week after my birthday (on average). This however was a book I could not pass up even with all it's carols.

I love history and Judith Flanders writes some of the best I've ever read. This time as well, she didn't disappoint. This was informative and well written and proved that, like everything else, Christmas has it's fashions that come a
Bloss ♡
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2017
After weeks of dithering and being on the fence about this, I finally ordered this book when it went on sale locally. I was hoping for a festive read to get me in the spirit leading up to Christmas; unfortunately, this was not the case.

This reads like a textbook that’s been copied and pasted from myriad different sources. There is no emotion here. There is no story. There is much overlap and nothing threading all the components together. It is a surprisingly dry and boring read regardless of th
Stephanie ((Strazzybooks))
A very readable social history that was really fun around the holidays. It was interesting to think about the roots while participating in the traditions and culture of Christmas.
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, read-in-2017
This book is exactly what it says it is, a biography of Christmas and all things related. The history begins from the time of Christ, analyzing the "reason for the season" and from there, progresses through time on how the holiday has progressed. It follows the religious and political aspects, as well as traditions, food, drinks, celebrations, songs, entertainment from around the world. Flanders even covers the scary side of evil elves and characters such as Krampus.

This is truly the go-to book
Laura Harrison
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book will really help you get into the holiday spirit. By the time you are done with Christmas: A Biography, there won't be anything you don't know about Christmas. The origin, myth, facts-Judith Flanders answered every possible question. I only wish the book was filled with more photos and illustrations. It truly would have enhanced the volume. The cover art is fun, pretty and interesting. Christmas: A Biography is a must have for holiday fans and would also make a great gift. ...more
Sep 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Flanders offers an engaging, highly-detailed historical look at the celebration of Christmas. While its billed as a history of Christmas and practices around it, it really is largely about Christmas since 1600, primarily in England and the United States, as well as Germany. While the forms Christmas has taken in these countries is fascinating, it is to the neglect of how Christmas is practiced in non-Western countries, especially countries where Christians are a minority. Unfortunately the autho ...more
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected. At a minimum, any book about Christmas should be fun, an enjoyable read. This was not. This was a very dry look at the history of Christmas, with an endless bombardment of facts and figures down to the minutest detail.
A lot of this detail was of course pretty interesting, but at times the interesting stuff was lost in the midst of the unnecessary detail. It was essentially an academic look at a non-academic subject, a sociological history.
Good for
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book focuses on one of my favourites holidays and seasons: Christmas! The book talks about festivities, rituals and the history of the holiday itself. I loved learning more about how people were being excessive so soon after the first few decades after Christmas started. What is great about Christmas is that it fuses various religious traditions, pagan celebrations along with individuals countries and family traditions. This book explores all aspects of the holiday such as tress, gift givin ...more
Steven Yenzer
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
I tried and failed to finish Judith Flanders' The Making of Home because I found the writing strangely dry and disjointed. Christmas: A Biography suffers from the same oddly stilted writing, with spiraling sentences like: “By the beginning of the eighteenth century, greenery more generally, being so routine at Christmas, itself came to be called, simply, ‘Christmas.’” I cannot understand how a sentence like that got past an editor — and Christmas: A Biography is full of them. In addition, as oth ...more
Dec 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This presents a more secular view of the history of Christmas, a topic I find myself drawn to every December. Flanders obviously did extensive research for book, and it's presented in a straight-forward, no-frills kind of way. Which is fine, but it falls kind of flat as a result. I've read other books similar in theme that had more heart and humor to them. This one just comes off as dry and textbook-ish. Still, the information is good, and I do like how nostalgia and whimsy are not the driving f ...more
Dec 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dnf
Rarely do I decide not to finish a book, but this is one of those times. First, this eBook is a hot mess. It's visually disruptive. I couldn't take it. The content is heavy for a book about Christmas. The organization was jumpy. The tone felt very negative, which was odd for such heavy content. If you want to drown me in historical facts about Christmas, fine, but don't be a jerk about it. I don't recommend this title. ...more
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
While the facts are interesting, the execution was not to my thing. It jumps all over the place, sometimes feeling like a stream of consciousness, even, and at times it isn't even discernible what the main topic of a chapter is. Plus, there wasn't anything in the writing to make this a particularly interesting relaying of facts. ...more
James Hendrickson
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and useful

I learned a great deal from this and it was surprisingly interesting. Christmas is a fascinating and very rapid myth generator so that within one or two generations new myths are created as old time Christmas wonder.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had expected this to be a “merry” book, detailing traditions through the years and customs in other countries. Instead it was a very dry history. Full of facts and footnotes, it reads like a textbook. Disappointing.
Oct 24, 2017 rated it liked it
"Christmas" is a history of how Christmas was celebrated, mainly in the British Isles, Germany, and America. The author repeatedly stated that Christmas was never primarily a religious holiday as many non-religious-focused activities have always occurred on the day. As most people didn't get the day off work for most of Christmas history, this seems an odd argument. The author came across as believing that Christians who push for more focus on the intended purpose of the holiday (celebrating Chr ...more
M.A. Nichols
I've been looking forward to this book and enjoyed Ms. Flander's Victorian City book, but this one was disappointing.

On the good side, this is a very broad overview of Christmas, beginning with ancient times and going all the way to the present. It focuses mostly on Britain, Europe, and America (though focusing mostly on areas of America that were significantly influenced by German, Dutch, and British customs). It gives some really interesting background on some of the traditions and even discus
Mary Ronan Drew
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Judith Flanders has written some excellent books about the Victorian house and the Victorian city and so I looked forward to Christmas: A Biography eagerly. Unfortunately, although there is a lot of information about the origins and development of various Christmas customs, much of what she writes is for me not entirely believable.

A short synopsis: Olde English (and German and Scandinavian) Christmas traditions are neither as old as we have been led to believe, nor do they or the holiday itself
Jan 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
Can't say that I've ever really been interested in the history of Christmas, but after seeing a friend's review of this, it did seem like a delightful enough introduction; so much so that I felt compelled to dive in. And after reading, and learning a whole bunch of Christmas-related things, I'm ever so happy I did!

Which isn't to say that this is the best book. For my purposes the style was so, so messy - internally I wept for more structure. I mean, if somebody (such as a friend who said Christ
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting read about the evolution of Christmas but jumped around in time and place. I found myself going back to reread passages trying to find the connection. Overall good and glad I read it. My two main takeaways were:

1: Christmas has been celebrated in a secular way since it’s creation. “...Sometime before his death in 389, Gregory of Nazainzus, Archbishop of Constantinople, found it necessary to warn against the dancing and ‘feasting to excess’ that were occurring on the holy day.”

2: Nost
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Judith Flanders was born in London, England, in 1959. She moved to Montreal, Canada, when she was two, and spent her childhood there, apart from a year in Israel in 1972, where she signally failed to master Hebrew.

After university, Judith returned to London and began working as an editor for various publishing houses. After this 17-year misstep, she began to write and in 2001 her first book, A Cir

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“the tree was a Weihnachtsbaum, or Tannenbaum, a Christmas or fir tree; Protestantism became ‘the Tannenbaum religion’, and the trees were sometimes Lutherbäume, [Martin] Luther trees. Where Catholic regions adopted the tree, it became a Christbaum, a Lichterbaum, or Lebensbaum, a tree of Christ, light, or life; Württemberg had Christkindleinsbäume, Christ child trees.” 0 likes
“By whatever name, and however displayed, by the 1770s and 1780s, trees were an integral part of the German Christmas, whether a small tree in a pot placed on a table, a fir-tree tip hanging point downwards from the ceiling, a tree, point upwards, with the end sharpened and spearing an apple, or, among Pietist or evangelical communities, branches decorated with candles and sweets placed on wooden pyramid frames. This German tradition travelled to England in the final quarter of the eighteenth century.” 0 likes
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