Stodgily written, drearily illustrated, clumsily edited, this cut-and-paste import is likely to turn even a confirmed Bob Cratchit into an Ebenezer Scrooge. ClichÃ‰s dot the text like currants in a plum pudding. Readers are informed, for example, that ""Christmas is now irrevocably our major annual holiday,"" and that ""Christmas is a time when children are given special attention."" Even when the authors turn to the historical background of ""modern"" Christmas, the material is all-too-familiar. The usual information about Yuletide precedents in the Saturnalia of ancient Rome and in Northern European tribal rites is trotted out. Prince Albert's influence in popularizing the Christmas tree in Victorian England is examined for the umteenth time. The circumstances surrounding Clement Moore's composition of ""A Visit from St. Nicholas"" are repeated. Just about the only thing missing is ""Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."" The familiarity would be less of a problem if Golby and Purdue had injected a bit of excitement into their prose. Unfortunately, they've seemed unwilling or unable to do this. The result is ""a long winter's nap. ""While the work is apparently meant for an American readership, there is a distinctly British slant to much of the material. The authors rattle on about ""crackers,"" ""Boxing Day"" and ""Pantos"" as if these ""Anglo"" Christmas customs were common in the US. A further limitation is the fact that the illustrations (151 black-and-white and an eight-page color insert) were apparently chosen on a catch-as-catch-can basis--movie stills, newspaper advertisements, kitschy greeting cards, undistinguished engravings. A potentially appealing subject that deserves better than this flat, unimaginative and visually barren execution. Excuse us, but bah, humbug!