Saturday, December 20, 2008

Five best books on Christmas traditions

The Boston Sunday Globe called Penne L. Restad's Christmas in America: A History "a fine book of far greater than merely seasonal interest."

At the Wall Street Journal Restad named five books that "display a gift for exploring Christmas traditions."

One title on her list:
The Battle for Christmas
by Stephen Nissenbaum
Knopf, 1996

"The Battle for Christmas" explains how a rowdy public holiday -- one with lots of drinking, eating, mocking, begging and loud merry-making -- was tamed into a quiet family affair in the 19th century. Unsettled by the urban concentration of the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution, upper-class folks encouraged the celebration of a civilizing version of the holiday. Traditional year-end roistering gave way to rituals of gifts and good cheer. The promoters of the new Christmas offered a cleaned-up version of St. Nicholas (his religious cloak removed and censorious coal taken away), placed a candy-trimmed evergreen in the parlor and gathered the children 'round. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history, "The Battle for Christmas" isn't about traditions; it's about the social tensions that newfound traditions helped resolve, if only for a few days each year.
Read about all five titles on Restad's five best list.

--Marshal Zeringue