Is there a war on Christmas? Yes, and there always has been.
Canadian historian Bowler (Santa Claus: A Biography, 2005, etc.) takes a seemingly modern topic—the vilification of Christmas—and shows it to have a centuries-old history. His survey of the issue covers everything from the deadly serious to the absurd, and it will leave readers amazed at the holiday’s ability to not only persist, but to thrive worldwide. The author begins by discussing the origins of Christmas, a well-worn path among modern academics. However, he sides with modern scholarship trends that Christmas is not an appropriation of pagan holidays but rather a result of traditional early Christian teachings about the nativity of Christ. Throughout the centuries of Christendom, the holiday faced uphill battles as reformers tried to squelch it, especially due to its connections with excesses in greed, gluttony, and violence. Entering the modern period, Christmas changed to a home-centered holiday and a particularly important part of the Christian and secular year. “Christmas in its ideal form is normality,” writes Bowler. This very fact led to its attempted subversion in recent centuries by French revolutionaries, German Nazis, communist regimes, and others. The “normality” of Christmas has also led to its appropriation by the fringes of society. The author concludes with the modern attacks on Christmas by everyone from the New Atheists to Wiccans, often using cheeky language to poke fun at would-be Christmas-stoppers: “It must take a heart of stone not to be moved by a Christmas display containing fifteen pink flamingos with Santa hats, but [the plaintiff] found it within herself…to object.” Though Bowler does not advance a particular religious view, it is obvious that he sees many of Christmas’ modern detractors to be little more than killjoys. The book ranges broadly from the tragic to the silly, and some readers may be left bewildered by the pendulum swings.
Ultimately enlightening and entertaining.