Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Holiday Magic by 19th-Century Spin Doctors

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Holiday Magic by 19th-Century Spin Doctors

Article excerpt

It's the day after Christmas so naturally you're exhausted,

overfed, slightly hung-over, and definitely tapped out, with

every piece of plastic you own maxed out.

For this, you can thank Washington Irving, John Pintard,

Clement C. Moore and a bunch of conservative, upper middle-class

New York socialites and merchants.

They're the ones who invented Christmas, at least Christmas as

we know it.

Not that they didn't have a point. Before they decided that

Christmas should be about jolly old St. Nicholas dispensing

gifts to wide-eyed little children, the way Christmas was

celebrated more or less resembled Mardi Gras, except a lot less

restrained.

In those days, the hangovers could be really nasty. Several

weeks of binge drinking, lewd rituals and excessive eating can

really wear you down.

All this information comes courtesy of Stephen Nissenbaum, a

professor of history at the University of Massachusetts who has

written The Battle for Christmas, one of those delightfully

revisionist texts that lets us know the past was entirely

different less innocent and pure than we think it was (the

unwieldy subtitle is "A social and cultural history of Christmas

that shows how it was transformed from an unruly carnival season

into the quintessential American family holiday").

At this point, I should note that there are many people who

would prefer to think of Christmas as neither an unruly carnival

nor a quintessentially American (read commercialized to the

hilt) holiday.

To them it's a holy day, Christ's birthday. The problem with

that is that it is highly improbable that he was actually born

on Christmas Day. The practice of pretending he was began in the

late 4th century when Pope Julius I decreed Christ's birth would

be celebrated on Dec. …

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