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There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum, is a fascinating study of opposing views of the Christmas celebration in America. When immigrants brought their Christmas rituals from northern and southern Europe, the customs were not always welcome.
Puritans dismissed Christmas as a pagan celebration masquerading as a Christian feast. Some celebrations, particularly those related to Saturnalia and the Yule feast, were rowdy affairs.
Nissenbaum provides careful research for each point he makes about the change in views about Christmas. I found the book a very interesting read.
One person found this helpful. Until I read this text, I had the misconception that the struggles between the Christmas Holiday and the Secular were rather recent. Was I suprised to find that these battles have been going on for centuries. Illustrations are well-chosen, and the extensive use of footnotes and documentation really show off his work. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, drinking, riots, and wild merry-making helped define the holiday, which is the main reason Puritans and others opposed the holiday.
But by the 's, a class transformation had begun which would see Christmas become more family friendly and evolve into what we have today. Nissenbaum goes into the darker aspects of Christmas as well. How slave-owners in the American South used Christmas to keep everyone in "festive" spirits is brought to light, and the pursuit of profit had its influence as well. The book goes into more material than what I have briefly mentioned here. And it's well worth anyone's time. I don't agree with all of Mr.
Nissenbaum's conclusions myself, but I was suprised when I heard there were big debates about keeping stores open on Christmas back in the 's even than. The More Times Change. I used to read "A Christmas Carol" every year as a tradition and now I have added this to my annual read list. This book gives the history of Christmas and explains how many of the traditions that we consider to be timeless and carried over to the US from "the old country" were carefully crafted and introduced a mere years ago by wealth businessmen in New York who wanted to transform the raucous street fair that was Christmas more like Mardi Gras into a more peaceful time to focus on family and children According to Professor Nissenbaum the Christmas that we love to hate today was born out of the ideas of a small group of men in New York City and London as a way of transforming Christmas from a rowdy working class street festival to what it has become.
Further, Christmas wasn't much practiced at all in the United States until the late 19th century and was outright banned in many of the early colonies. This look at how Christmas has changed and evolved is essential reading if you want to have a conversation with someone who rants and raves about their perceptions of people who don't celebrate Christmas the way that they want you to celebrate it.
Understanding the history of this seminal holiday in the United States helps to understand how it has become what it is and how, above all else, Christmas is a commercial holiday that hasn't had much to do with religion for a long time. My advice to those who want to hit people over the head with the religious nature of Christmas Have you ever considered the mad Christmas rush and then read the Christian Bible stories in the Gospels.
How did we get from Bethlehem to Black Friday? This book gives an interesting overview of the transition from a Evangelical Protestant view of no Christmas Celebration in colonial times, where Christmas was only celebrated in Christian circles by Roman Catholics and Episcopalians to what happens now. The rise of commercial Christmas filled the void left by the Protestant Churches. It also highlights the important role that the Unitarian Church played in the development of the North American family Christmas. The book is well worth the read for a slice of an often unreported history.
What is wonderful is that it is written by a Jewish author so we don't get a lot of cultural-religious baggage. As a Christian Minister, I find this refreshing! Quite excellent and entertaining book on the history of our Christmas customs. Eye opener and puts things in perspective.
It was a gift and I have purchased at least two as gifts. See all 63 reviews. Most recent customer reviews. Published 20 days ago. Published 2 months ago.
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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. Dec 01, Zoe rated it it was amazing. I am somewhat in love with the Christmas season. I am equally in love with finding out that certain long-abiding cultural traditions are not really so traditional and long-abiding after all. There's something satisfying about the sharp sting of disillusionment that accompanies discovering how cold, historic realities cannot live up to the romantic ideals of poetic fancy. Maybe I'm reliving the trauma of being told Santa doesn't actually exist, or maybe I'm just getting cynical in my old age.
In I am somewhat in love with the Christmas season. In any case, part of what stuck with me after reading "The Battle for Christmas" was just how mutable our ideologies are; how shaped by historical and political forces; how quickly divorced from their origins Though I grew up in primarily Christian environs, I don't identify with the religion, and I've never given much thought to the theological underpinnings of this holiday despite being able to sing all the words to "Away in a Manger" and "What Child is This?
I think much of my appreciation for Christmastime comes from happy childhood associations with gifts, fattening foods and Frank Capra movies. So am I just a victim of crass American commercialism? Is my love of Christmas somehow devoid of the original spirit of the holiday? WELL, apparently, Puritans during the colonial period didn't really recognize Christmas as a religious holiday because they considered it to be a pagan festival in thinly veiled Christian guise.
Some actually tried to stop the public from celebrating Christmas as a holiday, because, traditionally, such winter festivities were occasions for gluttonous excess, drunken debauchery and riots in the streets news to me! Lower class individuals would crash the homes of well-to-do families, sometimes violently demanding drink, food and money. Apparently, this is a carry-over from the pre-Christian Saturnalian tradition whereby masters would allot a certain number of days to wait upon their servants as "Lords of Misrule" as part of a long-held ritual of social inversion.
In the 19th century, Christmas began to take a more domestic shape specifically because certain upper-class individuals took it upon themselves to reinvent the holiday to protect their own interests. The ritual inversion of social hierarchies once observed along socioeconomic lines, was then transposed onto a familial model.
As a result, children - the most dependent and least powerful members of a family - became the center of the holiday's focus. Furthermore, the very construct of Santa Claus is in fact a reimagining of Christmas "traditions" by wealthy New York landowners like Clement Clarke Moore. These are just a few examples of how difficult it is to sort out what is authentically Christmas. Having just tried to articulate those few ideas in a way that makes sense, I now have even greater respect for Nissenbaum's ability to clearly and cogently articulate himself.
The whole book is compellingly constructed, chockablock with insightful details and interesting anecdotes. I definitely suggest this to any fellow Christmas-o-philes out there. Nov 17, Liza Lorenz rated it it was amazing. Original Quickie Review www. When Book Riot asked readers what they were reading for Christmas, it got me thinking.
After a bit of research, I settled on this history of American Christmas. In truth, I skimmed over some parts. Given its academic bent, it is dense reading that for some will be way more than they ever wanted to know about Christmas. Too, it may not necessarily put one in the Christmas mood, if that is the aim. On the other hand, if one wants to see exactly how Christmas in the U. On my website, I rated this book 4.
Dec 28, Andie rated it really liked it. I just re-read this book over the Christmas holiday after it has sat on my shelf for 14 years Apropos of nothing, it was the first book I ever bought on Amazon. This should be required reading for everyone who complains about either "the War on Christmas" or "what a shame it is that Christmas has become more commercial. Eminently readable and full of interesting insights into the way America celebrates Christmas, this book is highly recommended.
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Nov 21, Theresa rated it really liked it Shelves: The "Battle" Nissenbaum is talking about has nothing to do with the fabricated "War on Christmas" b. Heck, people would get in trouble for not working on Christmas Day back then. Gotta "love" that Protestant work ethic. Dec 13, Alicia rated it really liked it. And the awareness presses us to seek out the practices of other, different societies, including those of our own past- distant places and times that carry the promise of being more 'in touch' than our own with 'what really matters.
We read about times gone by and we do not wish to think those were just as complex, and as morally ambiguous, as our own times. But o "Our own culture has made us acutely aware of inauthenticities that pervade our own lives- in advertising, business, and politics. But of course they were If this book has argued, on the one hand, that traditions are constantly changing and that the domestic Christmas idyll is surprisingly new, it has also argued that most of the problems we face at Christmas today- the greedy materialism, the jaded consumerism, the deliberate manipulation not only of goods but also of private desires and personal relationships into purchasable commodities- are surprisingly old.
They date, in fact, to the emergence of the domestic Christmas itself. And they were being publicly debated, and lamented, as early as the s. Nov 01, Patricia rated it liked it. This book is about twice as long as it needs to be. Unless you're a scholarly scholar, it's almost too much documentation.
It is quite interesting, though, in the historical evolution of the holiday as we know it today. It really re-enforces my own belief that celebrating Jesus is a daily joy, not a December one. As most of our holidays have pagan origins, so it is with Christmas - the Christians jumping on board in hopes of calming and taking over the extremely rowdy Saturnalia and harvest fest This book is about twice as long as it needs to be. As most of our holidays have pagan origins, so it is with Christmas - the Christians jumping on board in hopes of calming and taking over the extremely rowdy Saturnalia and harvest festival.
Thus, the battle for Christmas as we try to "fight" it today is certainly not a new one, but has been going on for centuries. Interesting reading and it actually clarifies some of my thoughts on the holiday. NOT changing my belief in celebrating Christ, not changing my joy in the good things we hope to emphasize at Christmas - but solidifying my belief that that celebration and joy should be in the heart all year long.
Feb 14, mike rated it it was ok Shelves: Got to page 50 and ran out of gas, skimmed the rest of the book and threw it back. The book itself probably would have been a good read for someone truly interested in the history of Christmas traditions , but what I had been looking for was something that explained the history of Christmas as the date of Dec.
I hate to mark the book down as a two Got to page 50 and ran out of gas, skimmed the rest of the book and threw it back. I hate to mark the book down as a two-star -- it currently has a global rating higher than four -- but it does say My rating up there, and that's my personal rating. Others with different expectations would undoubtedly get more out of this. Aug 13, Susan rated it really liked it.
This book was an illuminating description of how the way we celebrate Christmas in the US has evolved in just a few generations. It will take you out of the mindset that there are immutable "traditions", seemingly hundreds of years old. If you are interested in how our perceptions of the Christmas holidays have been shaped over time, this is a really good one. Full disclosure, I am not a Christian, so I read this because I have an interest in the history of the holiday. There was a lot of interesting information, but I feel like the prose meandered and, often, continually reiterated the same information without advancing an argument about the nature of the holiday.
Jan 24, Bethany rated it really liked it. Insightful, well-written cultural history. Extremely well-researched with arguments easy to follow. Jan 20, Cynthia Varady rated it really liked it. Dueling Librarians March review! Sep 30, Renee rated it really liked it Shelves: Read the March Dueling Librarians review!
View all 3 comments. Jan 17, Sally rated it liked it Shelves: Chapters support the thesis that modern American Christmas celebrations took form in the early s, adapting various older traditions of a public nature into a family-oriented holiday. Christmas traditions are far less organic than we are led to believe. Using countless sources, from diary excerpts, to almanacs, illustrations, and children's books, author Stephen Nissenbaum unravels the mysteries of Santa, Christmas gift-giving, and more in The Battle for Christmas.
How did winter misrule evolve into the child-centered domestic affair we know so well today? Christmas Celebrations or Class Warfare? Having read reviews beforehand, I knew The Battle for Christmas covered more than Christmas traditions are far less organic than we are led to believe. Having read reviews beforehand, I knew The Battle for Christmas covered more than reindeer and tinsel, but the scope of the book still surprised me.
Nissenbaum considered every angle from which to view Christmas—the politics that shaped it; the religion that resisted, then reinforced, it; and the economies that commodified it. Nissenbaum's writing is dry and slow at times, but his research is impressive, and you have to admit the topic's interesting. This book may turn you into that person who ruins all the fun at Christmas parties.
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I, for one, would love a party with Belsnickle or Krampus. Dec 06, Courtney rated it it was amazing. Ho ho ho, Christmas time is here and I haven't bought half the gifts I should have. Apparently this problem goes all the way back to the beginning of the commercial transformation of the holiday itself brought on my its domestication for tiny humans. But of course it was. Most believe that it has always been a loving festive time, slowly corrupted by modern life, when in fact that completely ignores the complexities of real life. Different times, different people, different celebrations.
If you'd like to get wasted like it's NYE and head to the nearest housing tract to sing poorly, go merrily right ahead. Do it for our raucous Christmas ancestors, but don't blame the whiskey when the cops come. If you're looking to read it fast, skip half the Christmas tree chapter and also the charity chapter after a page or two. The rest is solid and enjoyable.
Likely best for academically-minded readers but I think it would be accessable to anyone interested in history generally. Jan 03, Kathleen rated it it was amazing. The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum, is a fascinating study of opposing views of the Christmas celebration in America. When immigrants brought their Christmas rituals from northern and southern Europe, the customs were not always welcome. Puritans dismissed Christmas as a pagan celebration masquerading as a Christian feast.
Some celebrations, particularly those related to Saturnalia and the Yule feast, were rowdy affairs. Drunken gangs demanded food and drink from rich residents, a p The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum, is a fascinating study of opposing views of the Christmas celebration in America. Nissenbaum provides careful research for each point he makes about the change in views about Christmas. I found the book a very interesting read.
Dec 17, Josh rated it really liked it Shelves: Some fascinating historical information about the early progression of Christmas beginning in the s and through the late s. I did find the book disjointed at times it felt very much like several papers written by the author simply placed within the same cover. Yet the information shared about the growt Some fascinating historical information about the early progression of Christmas beginning in the s and through the late s.
Yet the information shared about the growth and evolution of Christmas is wondrous. So many things I simply had no idea about previously in relation to the development of American and European Christmas legends and myths. Dec 03, Kichi rated it really liked it. The excellent history writing left no important detail out while the sharp cultural analyses kept everything interesting.
I won't look at Christmas quite the same way again, thanks to this book. Oct 14, Linda Wallace rated it liked it Shelves: While Nissenbaum gave many fascinating facts about the traditions of Chrstmas and many interesting facts not related to Christmas , this book was way too long.
It really needed a good editor. The author also came across as professorial in many instances? Feb 05, Omar rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Informative and thought provoking, this book has me rethinking a lot of my views on not only Christmas, but Thanksgiving my favorite holiday , too. It's fairly common knowledge that the modern concept of Christmas was adapted from older, pagan solstice traditions; but I've long been curious about which older religions and practices each component tradition is rooted in.
The fact that most of my sense of "traditional" Christmas was clearly Victorian made it pretty obvious to me that something ha Informative and thought provoking, this book has me rethinking a lot of my views on not only Christmas, but Thanksgiving my favorite holiday , too. The fact that most of my sense of "traditional" Christmas was clearly Victorian made it pretty obvious to me that something had happened in the early 19th century that obscured and obfuscated the path between today's Christmas and its pagan roots; but what that "something" might be was never apparent to me.
Nissenbaum clears it up in a way I found pretty surprising - most of our current idea of what entails Christmas was invented pretty much out of whole cloth and a pressing need to instill some social order. Nissenbaum moves from the late pagan ritual of "misrule" Saturnalia to medieval Christian variants, like wassailing. From there he demonstrates why the English North American colonies initially criminalized all celebrations of Christmas as fundamentally unChristian, only decriminalizing them under pressure from the central government in London. Since a social release valve that worked well in relatively sparsely populated agricultural villages or in corresponding cities where the elite lived in fortified and armed compounds didn't translate so well into industrializing metropolises, Nissenbaum goes on to show how a bizarre intersection of needs between elites and progressive reformers in early America began to evolve the more modern, commercialized Christmas around the turn of the 19th century.
In the process, they concocted such trappings and "traditions" as St Nick, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus, gift giving, and Christmas trees to meet the particular needs of the embattled feeling upper and surging middle classes. He also makes a compelling case that modern Christmas both helped create and was created by the conjoined twin forces of Market Capitalism and Domesticity. Beyond highlighting the amusing historical fact that the US "Founding Fathers" actively opposed all celebrations of Christmas, he shows that the modern concerns about Christmas that it's overly commercial, that it cultivates greed in children, and that it drives parents crazy from the stress and rush of buying the perfect gift are all complaints that originate with the very first manifestations of modern Christmas back in the early 19th Century.
Along the way, he shows the way that the evolution of commercialism and domesticity corresponded with the evolution in the concept of classes and the very concept of childhood, drawing connections between abolitionism and early theories of childhood education. He points out how Christmas motivated the publishing industry to create the modern marketing concepts of Market Segmentation. In the end, I'll let Nissenbaum state his own thesis in these two paragraphs: That may be as true for a member of the 17th century English landed gentry as it is for a Southern planter.
Or, for that matter, for a modern plutocrat who makes generous Christmas donations to a deserving cause" and: In our own time, a century and a half later, that protection may be an indulgence we can no longer afford. Until the 19th century, Christmas celebrations had more to do with the midwinter pagan celebrations of the Saturn and Bacchus, according to a history of the Christmas celebration by Stephen Nissenbaum. The Christmas portrayed by Dickens of the family gathered together for a day of hard-earned rest and modest excess was a novelty.
Traditionally, December in Europe was a time for celebr Until the 19th century, Christmas celebrations had more to do with the midwinter pagan celebrations of the Saturn and Bacchus, according to a history of the Christmas celebration by Stephen Nissenbaum. Traditionally, December in Europe was a time for celebrating the end of the harvest season, when beer and wine were fully fermented. In fact, rowdy was the rule with massive feast-ing and cuckoldry.
The Puritans suppressed the holiday. In Massachusetts there was a five shilling fine for celebrating Christmas.