Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History

By Nyikos, Susan | Western Folklore, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History


Nyikos, Susan, Western Folklore


Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History. By Joe Perry. (Chapel Hill: University of Nordi Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. xiii + 424, acknowledgments, introduction, photos, illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $49.95 cloth.)

In his thoroughly captivating book, Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History, Joe Perry maps out the astonishing anatomy of what he calls "the German Christmas," from its inception in the early 1800s to its haunting and disturbing propaganda during the Third Reich and up to Reunification. Perry argues that the observance of Christmas as we have come to know and follow it symbolizes the rise and strengthening of national identity in the fragmented Germanic territories. Further, he refines his point by arguing that the study of Christmas is also the exploration of "the history of the modern self" (3) and he uses an interpretive methodology to unfold this history by reconstructing how the rituals and customs evolved around Christmas throughout its two-hundred year old tradition.

Perry's book is an intriguing read. Saying that the German-style celebration of Christmas originated by harnessing pent-up emotional needs does not come as a surprise to readers, but he also elucidates the historic and emotive reasons for its initial construction. He argues that it was the early bourgeoisie who combined the feminine or emotional and domestic side of society with the warring masculine side. Drawing on a host of sources, Perry analyzes how the enormous social changes caused by the Industrial Revolution and the Europe-wide political tension caused by the wars of the early 1800s direcdy produced a need for a holiday celebrating security and goodwill. With the invention of Christmas, German-style, that need was seamlessly met, concludes Perry.

For the Germans, Perry further argues, the newly created Christmas conventions provided a context in which they could probe their domestic values such as love, faith and family, against their civic responsibilities, their hope for material prosperity, and national unity. According to Perry, there is a clear correlation between the newly-created Christmas celebrations and the emergence of the three pillars of the modern German state: the political propaganda, its religious support, and the commercialization of values. …

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