Forget everything you thought you knew about the festive period

Do you think that Christmas has become more commercialised in the past few years ? Are you sure that Santa Claus wears red because of CocaCola ? Have you heard that Prince Albert first brought Christmas trees to the UK ? Does Christmas always seem to be a festival for children ? Do you hate the way that the religious aspect of the season is disappearing ? If you can answer yes to any of these questions then you need to read Christmas A Biography by Judith Flanders who will show you how everything you thought that you knew about the festive season is false.

This author writes accessible history about the things that affect ordinary people. I review her book about the history of the home here. This book is in a similar style but examines Christmas in all its aspects from its beginnings (in Roman times !). She shows how the season has always been a time of commercialism and how even in the fourth century people were complaining about it. She tells the reader how, in Britain, presents were first given to the wealthy and those who were important and how in recent centuries this has changed so that we give gifts and tips to those who serve us. Traditions from Europe and USA are included although the main focus of the book is the UK and I think that a British reader would best understand the way in which the book is focussed.

This is a book full of little titbits and pieces of information that you really want to share with others and which will probably cause you to have arguments with others at Christmas about the origins of popular traditions. If you just want to flip through the book looking for interesting snippets then in the hardback version I was reading there were icons representing the main themes beside various paragraphs to draw your attention to them. She talks about decorations, presents, Father Christmas, carols, trees and literary depictions of Christmas – among many other things. I would have liked there to be more illustrations as the ones in my edition seemed a bit random and sparse.

This is not a book that I found easy to read in large chunks but it was fascinating in small pieces and I can see that I shall be referring to it again in the future – maybe to stop those seasonal arguments (or to start new ones).

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