How Christmas Became Christmas

The Pagan and Christian Origins of the Beloved Holiday


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About the Book

In some respects, the contrasts of Christmas are what make it the most delightful time of the year. It is a time of generosity, kindness and peace on earth, with broad permission to indulge in food, drink and gifts. On the other hand, Christmas has become a battleground for raging culture wars, marred by debates about how it should be celebrated and acknowledged as a uniquely Christian holiday. This text argues that much of the animosity is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the holiday’s core character. By tracing Christmas’s origins as a pagan celebration of the winter solstice and its development in Europe’s Christianization, this history explains that the true “reason for the season” has as much to do with the earth’s movement around the sun as with the birth of Christ. Chapters chronicle how Christmas’s magic and misrule link to the nativity, and why the carnival side of the holiday appears so separated from traditional Christian beliefs.

About the Author(s)

Nathaniel Parry is an American researcher and writer living in Denmark. He is the author or editor of several books and his work has appeared in outlets such as Consortium News, In These Times, Common Dreams, Global Research, and Truthout. Since 2008, he has worked at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, where he is currently head of communications.

Bibliographic Details

Nathaniel Parry

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: 72 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8828-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4708-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction 3

Part One—Origins and Evolution
1. Holiday Hype and Historiography 10
2. In Search of the First Christmas 22
3. Christmas in a Pagan World 34
4. Yule’s ­Post-Pagan Metamorphosis 46
5. Repression and Resistance 58

Part Two—Curious Customs
6. Sacred Trees 68
7. The Man, the Myth, the Legend, the God—Santa Claus 83
8. Actual Christmas Magic 98
9. Children’s Saturnalia 113
10. Ghosts, Goblins and Angels 127

Part Three—Enduring Legacies
11. Legacy of Miracles 142
12. Legacy of Misrule 158
13. The Halloween Connection 171
14. From Pagan to Secular 182
15. Reason for the Season 198
16. War Over Christmas 209

Chapter Notes 219
Bibliography 241
Index 245

Book Reviews & Awards

“Fascinating”—Midwest Book Review