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Finished Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes (3/5). This short book gives a fairly thorough overview of the history of Christmas. If you have 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 Valentine's day. Before the mid-19th century, Christmas was a religious holiday that some people observed and others did not -- Forbes compared it to Epiphany. In the US, many Protestants intentionally deemphasized Christmas. As a secular holiday, Christmas was, in large part, a big party for adults with only minor emphasis on gifts and family. Most of the trappings of a "traditional" Christmas were missing or much smaller scale.

However, between the mid-19th century a movement started to intentionally transform the holiday into a family and gift oriented one, and by the early 20th century, the holiday had taken on more or less the form we recognize today. But even that transformation was not that radical -- Christmas has been, like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up and shedding traditions throughout its whole hisotyr.

Definitely an interesting read for those interested in the history of Christmas.


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Erika RS

May 2012

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