Archive » December 14, 2007
By Terri Schlichenmeyer, Journal Contributor
“Christmas: A Candid History”
by Bruce David Forbes
c.2007, University of California Press • $19.95 • 179 pages, includes notes
So, every year about this time, you tramp out to a forest or a lot downtown, drag a tree back inside and hang shiny things on it.
You tell the kids stories about kings and stars, and you encourage them to talk to a large stranger in a red suit that magically breaks into your house once a year, only to leave gifts for everyone.
And you call it “tradition.”
Have you ever wondered why? Why do we celebrate Christmas as we do? Find out the reasons for the holiday, its trappings, and more in “Christmas: A Candid History” by Bruce David Forbes.
As you run around like mad this month, try not to think of first and second century Christians. Forbes says that they didn’t celebrate Christmas. They probably never even thought about it because there was no general consensus regarding the exact day of Jesus’ birth. Even today, nearly two thousand years later, we’re still not entirely sure about the “real” date.
Examining the Bible, Forbes says there are conflicts between what we can glean from the “Good Book” and the traditions we cherish.
When you think about the nativity, for instance, you probably have in mind an image of donkeys, sheep, and oxen near a manger.
Nowhere, Forbes points out, are those animals mentioned in the nativity gospels. Go take a look.
Over the years, Christmas traditions and beloved stories have been added and changed, tweaked and discarded. Interest in the holiday declined at several points in history. Forbes says that in twenty of the forty-five years between 1790 and 1835, Christmas was not mentioned at all in London’s The Times newspaper.
Dickens’ version of the holiday was partially made-up, a “re-creation,” Forbes says. For many years, U.S. Congress met on Christmas Day.
And then, there’s Santa. Millions of kids around the world eagerly await their visit from the big guy, but Santa is a relatively new notion. The ho-ho-ho-ing guy with the black boots, red suit, and fur-trimmed hat wasn’t the original Santa.
In fact, Forbes says, there’s evidence that the “Jolly Old Elf” really was intended to be an elf. Why else would Santa, as Clement Moore (supposedly) wrote, be in a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer?
Which might also explain how a bag-laden, wool-clad, rotund man can wiggle down a chimney.
All this might sound to you like a curmudgeonly bah-humbug kind of book, but “Christmas: A Candid History” is not grumpy at all. Author Bruce David Forbes pokes into his subject with a scholar’s willingness to dig into esoteric areas for the truth, tempered by a wonderful, wide-eyed curiosity.
There are tidbits in here that will satisfy fact-hounds; a few argument-solvers (or starters); and some solid ideas to help you get past all that holiday stress and re-claim Christmas.
If you’re someone who always wondered why you embrace the traditions you love, or if you’re just curious about a holiday celebrated (in one form or another) around the world, then pick up “Christmas: A Candid History.” Yule truly enjoy it.