After the First Snowfall in November (the 7th)










Thursday, December 13, 2018

Virtual Advent Calendar 12/14: Christmas Nonfiction & Fiction

Thanks to Sprite, the Virtual Advent Calendar continues with this entry for Friday, December 14th.

I'd like to share a nonfiction Christmas classic that I have thoroughly enjoyed and still dig into every December. It's The Battle for Christmas: A Cultural History of America's Most Cherished Holiday by the American historian Stephen Nissenbaum.  It was first published in 1996, and is still, 22 years later, vigorously selling. This is a dense history, and for lots of people reading at this time of year, I'd recommend choosing a chunk of chapters to read each December.

I've learned a tremendous amount of surprising facts about the history of Christmas in the American colonies and in the U.S. I thought I knew all there was to know, but I learned to my dismay how desperate Americans were, especially in cities, to reduce the amount of drunken rioting that occurred over Christmas. Wassailers extorted food and money from the better-off and in some cities, it was a dangerous business walking about in the winter darkness. Many, if not the majority of these revelers were adolescents and older children. It's important to remember that the primary alcoholic beverage in the early 19th century were spirits in one form or another--rum and whiskey, predominantly.

Nissenbaum, who received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Antiquarian Society, and assistance from UMass/Amherst to pursue this research, uncovered this history, which had been largely forgotten. His premise is that American society desperately needed to alter the way Christmas was celebrated, from an economic and social point of view, and that business leaders, clergy, and law enforcement promoted celebrating the holiday via consumer and domestic culture, and the printed word. It's fascinating!! If you are interested in reading this book, I would go for a hardbound, used copy, which is also cost-effective. I have found that the illustrations are better reproduced in the hardcover edition.

Yes, I did indeed say in a previous entry that I would not include The Christmas Carol in my Christmas book discussions. But!! What was I thinking? I hadn't considered that if you are a big fan of the Dickens holiday ghost story, you may not know how wonderful The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited and with an intro by Michael Patrick Hearn and published by W.W. Norton is! Published in 2004, this edition has full-color plates of the original Christmas Carol illustrations, as well as the work of other important C.C. illustrators. History, art, music--the annotations are so fascinating, you'll go off on so many tangents that you'll forget all about actually reading The Christmas Carol. Definitely a volume to curl up with and share with friends, a cup of cocoa, and some feline and canine buddies.

I want to add one or two more. Just don't know that I have time, so I'll start with the book Christmas Spirit: Two Stories by Robert Westall. These stories were published in the U.S. in 1994, posthumously. In the UK they were published as two separate stories for young people, The Christmas Ghost and The Christmas Cat. Neither are the traditional sweetness and light as are most Christmas stories for young people. In fact, when I read them, I thought they were both better suited to an adult audience. They puzzled me and gave me a great deal to think about.

Robert Westall was a highly regarded author of children's literature, and much of what he wrote was for young people 10 and up, or 12-up. He grew up in Northumberland in England, and these two stories are set there. He also was 10-14 years or so during WWII, and a number of his other books have male protagonists living during that difficult time.

6 comments:

  1. Ooh! I'll add these to my Christmas book list at the library. Thanks for the recommendations and for taking part in the tour again!

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    1. Thank you, Sprite, for hosting this event, and for giving those of us who collect Christmas books a place to share.

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  2. I'll have to track down the Robert Westall books. I enjoyed his The Machine-Gunners. That's very interesting about the chaos around Christmas time in years past.

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    1. Yes, because of my strong feelings for Robert Westall's books, I picked this up years and years ago when I worked in a children's bookstore. I need to read even more of his books.

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  3. I love how when you love a book, you can find and enjoy so many different versions of the book, and never tire of it.

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    1. I'm so sorry that I missed responding to your comment--I must have been lax at some point, but I didn't realize it.
      In any case, I agree with you 100 percent, especially when it come to the timeless classics, like The Christmas Carol. So true. And the same goes for all the multiple film versions of a classic book.

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