Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas in America by Penne L. Restad~★★★★

Author: Penne L. Restad
Title: Christmas in America: A History
Release Date: December 5, 1996
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "The manger or Macy's? Americans might as well wonder which is the real shrine of Christmas. Each year we take part in a mix of churchgoing, shopping, and family gatherings, often wondering whether the season has been commercialized beyond repair. But as Penne Restad demonstrates, Christmas has always been an ambiguous combination of solemnity and frenzy. 
Christmas in America brims with insight and colorful detail. Unwrapping the hidden messages in such time-honored traditions as the Christmas tree, gift-giving, and family dinners, Restad brilliantly reveals how the holiday has evolved into an essential, and inescapable, presence in contemporary culture. She starts with colonial times, when New England's Puritans primly denounced any festivities and Virginians hunted, danced, and feasted, and closes in the late twentieth century, when Santa has stationed a representative or two in every mall. 
From Clement Clarke Moore's poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' to the box-office smash Home Alone, Restad's marvelous book shows what our Christmas celebrations tell us about our culture and ourselves. Christmas in America offers much to delight and consider." 

Taryn's Review: As I studied some material for the upcoming holiday seasonal programs that my work offers, I realized that I didn't know very much about the history of Christmas in the United States. I knew from a previous job that Christmas wasn't celebrated in the early nineteenth century with all the commotion that it is today. I figured a little background knowledge couldn't hurt, so when this book popped in my search for Christmas histories in the library collection, I immediately checked it out.

This book was very helpful and was written in a very historical fashion (which I appreciated). Restad focused on how certain traditions made their way to America from abroad and how they became embedded into the American tradition. She discussed the regional differences of celebrating Christmas and how over time uniformity of celebrations began to mark Christmas. The introduction of Saint Nicholas/Kris Kringle/Santa Claus was especially interesting to me. It is really amazing how much printed media altered the celebrations of Christmas across the country and Santa Claus is a prime example of that. Later other medias would include him, but initially the printed poem of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" launched a belief that children today still hold true.

My interest was in early America throughout the nineteenth century, so while I was pleased with the information available in the book, I also felt like the early twentieth century did not get the attention or details that the previous chapters had. The book also threw in some contemporary additions, but honestly I think it could have done without it since the rest of the book was so rich with great detail and discussion. Also, a very short point was made on the Jewish viewpoint of Christmas throughout its history in the U.S., but again, it felt like a last minute addition to the book.

I really enjoyed this book and how it helped me gain a better understanding of Christmas throughout the years in America. The origins and changes of the holiday were so interesting to read and Restad offered a thoroughly researched book with fascinating details. On a personal note, I read in the book where a man named Charles Howeard moved his Santa Claus School to Santa Claus, Indiana, so he could produce the finest Santas for the Christmas season. I used to work at a historic site close to Santa Claus, Indiana, and I will never forget the day a Santa Claus convention visited the park. I bet Charles Howard would have been pleased to see all the Santas that still meet up to this day!

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