Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas Bookshelf: The History of U.S. Celebrations

We have many favorite Christmas books...mainly children's books, a number of which focus on the Biblical Christmas story.

In this post, however, I wanted to mention some very enjoyable, colorful books on the history of American Christmas celebrations. By their nature they are focused heavily (though not entirely) on the secular cultural aspects of Christmas. MERRY CHRISTMAS! CELEBRATING AMERICA'S GREATEST HOLIDAY by Karal Ann Marling (linked above) and INVENTING CHRISTMAS chronicle the evolution of our modern Christmas celebrations, from Christmas trees to Santa Claus to wrapping paper, ribbon, and Scotch tape.

Jock Elliott, the author of INVENTING CHRISTMAS, was a marketing executive who collected Christmas ephemera as a hobby. His collection included a copy of A CHRISTMAS CAROL which Charles Dickens used for public readings. The book is illustrated mainly with old drawings and paintings depicting the origination of various customs and characters in the 1800s. Elliott passed away just a few weeks ago.

Marling's book is not as heavily illustrated as Elliott's, but it contains fascinating tidbits of history such as the evolution of giftwrap and tree decorating. She also has an excellent chapter on Christmas movies -- and points out an interesting anachronism, the use of white tissue paper in LITTLE WOMEN.

IT'S A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS: THE BEST OF THE HOLIDAYS 1940-1965 by Susan Waggoner is pure "eye candy." There are pages of beautiful graphic art, particularly from the 1940s, including catalogue pages, movie posters, and magazine ads.

CHRISTMAS, 1940-1959: A COLLECTOR'S GUIDE TO DECORATIONS AND CUSTOMS by Robert Brenner, and its sequel CHRISTMAS, 1960-PRESENT each contain hundreds of photographs of everything from record album covers to cardboard manger sets to Christmas ornaments and candles. It was fun to recognize some items handed down from my grandparents (such as the aforementioned cardboard manger set) among the pages.


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