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The Battle for Christmas
Stephen Nissenbaum

0679740384 Retail Price: $17.95
CenturyOne Price: $12.53
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Format: Paperback, 400pp.
ISBN: 9780679740384
Publisher: Vintage Books
Pub. Date: November 1997

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Description

From The Publisher:

Anyone who laments the excesses of Christmas might consider the Puritans of colonial Massachusetts: they simply outlawed the holiday. The Puritans had their reasons, since Christmas was once an occasion for drunkenness and riot, when poor "wassailers extorted food and drink from the well-to-do. In this intriguing and innovative work of social history, Stephen Nissenbaum rediscovers Christmas's carnival origins and shows how it was transformed, during the nineteenth century, into a festival of domesticity and consumerism.

Drawing on a wealth of period documents and illustrations, Nissenbaum charts the invention of our current Yuletide traditions, from St. Nicholas to the Christmas tree and, perhaps most radically, the practice of giving gifts to children. Bursting with detail, filled with subversive readings of such seasonal classics as "A Visit from St. Nicholas and A Christmas Carol, The Battle for Christmas captures the glorious strangeness of the past even as it helps us better understand our present.

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From Booklist: 
Most Americans cherish their Christmas traditions as links to a stable and secure past. In this work of remarkable scholarship, however, Nissenbaum punctures these nostalgic myths, showing that our Yuletide practices actually developed as nineteenth-century innovations of staid patricians eager to suppress the truly ancient Christmas traditions (largely borrowed from pagans) of anarchic carnival revelry. Behind the images of domestic bliss that Americans now regard as the timeless embodiment of Christmas lies a convoluted social, political, and theological history filled with irony. For instance, the commercialism that many Americans detest as the enemy of a true Christmas actually reflects the nineteenth-century redefinition of Christmas as a family holiday rather than a public one. And the classic poetic image of St. Nicholas as "a right jolly old elf" actually obscures, not preserves, our cultural past. Discerning readers may want to recommend this book as Christmas reading for friends and family members mature enough to surrender their holly-and-tinsel illusions. Bryce Christensen

Full of unexpected revelations about the evolution of Christmas, Nissenbaum's book is a stellar work of American cultural history. In probing the historical contexts of Christmas, Nissenbaum casts fresh light on such diverse issues as consumerism, popular culture, class relations, the American family, and the African-American experience.

—David Reynolds, author of Beneath the American Renaissance and Walt Whitman's America


. . . a timely reminder that Dickensian nostalgia was itself a commercial product, pandering to a modern Christmas spirit . . .the literary heart of a secular shopping spree.
—The New York Times Book Review, Frances Stead Sellers


Christmas . . . too often fails to wholly satisfy the spirit or the senses. How and why the yuletide came to this is the subject of historian Stephen Nissenbaum's fascinating new study. "
—Newsweek

 

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