Christmas: A History Paperback – 30 Nov 2012
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'a lucid and informative analysis.' --Victorian Studies
About the Author
Mark Connelly is Reuters Lecturer in Media and Propaganda History at the University of Kent at Canterbury.
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He said in the Introduction, "This book will examine how Christmas developed in England from around 1780 to 1952... an idea grew up about the nature of the modern Christmas. This idea was that, like many other aspects of our modern life, it had been largely invented out of nothing. It became almost a dogma that the Victorians had invented Christmas using a few scraps of historical evidence... This book will seek to question those attitudes. Invention just seems too strong a word... It is the argument of this book that what Christmas became in the nineteenth century was an inflation, a beautifully augmented season, but it was not invented." (Pg. 1-2)
He observes, "this study does not seek to prove that the observation of Christmas in England is a seamless historical chain stretching back to the earliest days of Christianity in the British Isles. Significant changes in the way Christmas was conceived and celebrated did occur in the early nineteenth century... Thus, if Christmas was artificially devised in the early nineteenth century, it was done so unconsciously... The Victorians... [were] obsessed with the fact that Christmas was, supposedly, dying out rapidly and irrevocably. By the 1830s the seemingly obvious imperative was to conserve rather than invent, to revive rather than inaugurate." (Pg. ix-x)
He says, "whether he claimed it or not, [Charles] Dickens was regarded as the heart of Christmas by the early twentieth century. Further, both his champions and detractors believed this too." (Pg. 42) He notes, "the present author cannot find much genuine evidence that the carol was on the verge of extinction in this period. There was certainly a lot of literature produced proclaiming that fact, but by the same token there is always enough evidence to suggest that carols were known and sung." (Pg. 66) Later, he adds, "That the carol was languishing a little during the early part of the nineteenth century does seem a reasonable assumption. However, what does not appear reasonable is the assumption that it was 'knocking on death's door.'" (Pg. 99)
He suggests, "The [British] Empire was being made smaller and the family spirit was being promoted by the air mail scheme in general and the Christmas mails in particular. That the air mails improved the sense of unity in the Empire is clear from the sense of isolation felt in the most far-flung parts of the Empire." (Pg. 123-124) He also argues that "The BBC quickly established itself as an ally of the English Christmas... it took on board and gave a new vibrancy to many seemingly ancient and venerable components of the English Christmas... It was, in short, a middle-class version of the Empire... the BBC's programmes linked British people across the world and promoted the English Christmas still further as a day of national and imperial unity." (Pg. 157) Later, he adds, "The television is crucial to the way in which Christmas is celebrated, and has been so since the 1950s." (Pg. 205)
This is an excellent and very informative book, that will be of considerable interest to lovers of the holiday---particularly its English aspect.
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