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In 1659 the Massachusetts Bay General Court declared the celebration of Christmas to be a criminal offense. What the Puritans were trying to suppress was a holiday marked by boisterous invasions of the homes of wealthy. As recently as the early 19 century, Christmas reveling often resulted in violence and riots. In this book, Nissenbaum explores the not-always-proud history of Christmas in American culture. 46 illustrations.
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This scholarly analysis of our modern celebration of Christmas pulls together a thoroughly convincing case for the widely accepted notion that it is a 19th-century creation, indeed a deliberate reformation and taming of a holiday with wilder pagan origins. Christmas was set at December 25 in the fourth century, not for any biblical link with Christ's birth, but because the church hoped to annex and Christianize the existing midwinter pagan feast. This latter was based on the seasonal agricultural plenty, with the year's food supply newly in store, and nothing to do in the fields. It was a time of drinking and debauchery from the Roman Saturnalia to the English Mummers. The Victorians hijacked the holiday, and Victorian writers helped turn it into a feast of safe domesticity and a cacophonous chime of retail cash registers.About the Author:
Stephen Nissenbaum is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts.
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