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Christmas: A Biography

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  498 ratings  ·  125 reviews
"Thirty years after the first recorded Christmas, in the fourth century, the Pope was already warning that too many people were spending the day not in worship, but dancing and eating to excess. By 1616, the playwright Ben Jonson was nostalgically recalling the Christmas of the old days, certain that they had been better then.

Food, drink and nostalgia for Chris
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 19th 2017 by Picador
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Average rating 3.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  498 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. Griswold, Nat
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 Christma
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 part, and a ...more
T.D. Whittle
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
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
Rachel McMillan
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017, history
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
Laura Harrison
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 18, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bloss ♡
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))
Oct 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
"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
Mary Ronan Drew
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 hol
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a lover of Christmas, I thought I knew what this time of year was about and the origins of our traditions but this book opened my eyes to how little I really knew. This is an in-depth exploration of Christmas and all it entails and is a perfect read for those who get excited at the first sign of decorations in the shop or are always on the look out for more knowledge to impress friends and family especially over the  Christmas dinner.
It takes you through the evolution of Christmas inclu
Jack Phoenix
With rich research and writing, Flanders effectively takes the reader on a Polar Express through time and cultures, deftly illustrating how Christmas the wonderful, festive mess of a holiday that Christmas is.
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.
Adam English, author of a book on the real-life Santa Claus, reviews it here.
Dec 07, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
This is a MUST read for Christmas fans, lovers, and Christmas enthusiasts. It speaks of Christmas around the world to our culture- to our home. It makes you think about Christmas in the media -books, films, tv...

It will make you wonder of Christmas - truth - our view on truth - to our beliefs.

First and foremost, Christmas day established by Christian Church to mark the nativity of Christ.

Christmas Holiday-
the history, the myths, the traditions, the stori
Megan Tristao
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Megan by: Library Journal: Book Pulse
Some interesting tidbits, but overall was not engaged by the book. I also found the structure unhelpful - perhaps chapters for different aspects of Christmas (date, gifts, Santa Claus, etc.) would have been easier to digest and understand, or a chronological evolution of the holiday in different cultures. 2.5 stars.
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
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Rhonda Lomazow
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful look at Christmas full of its special traditions such as gift giving ,trees the holiday joy.Surprising& interesting look at the history of the Christmas celebration up to modern times,Would make a lovely holiday gift.Thanks @ Net galley&StMartins for advance reading copy.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it
This book reinforced my dislike of Christmas - turns out the materialism, unabashed consumption, talking to people you haven't talked to since last Christmas, unattainable expectations, etc. have been a part of Christmas from (almost) the beginning. I smiled though, to find out that my tradition of watching "The Shining" every Christmas Eve has a basis in history! (Ghost stories are historically a part of Christmas). I think that this book should be given to anyone railing about the "War on Chri ...more
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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