The Evolution of Christmas

Each year millions of people around the world celebrate Christmas in a myriad of ways. There’s no denying this holiday and its significance to so many people, and for us, this is one of many times a year where we make more of an effort to appreciate others and remember to be more open-hearted.

To celebrate the holidays this year, we’ve hand-picked special collection of stories and articles on Christmas from the Wiley Blackwell collection and elsewhere. Test your knowledge by taking our quiz, read about the history of the holiday, and explore how the phenomenon of Christmas has spread around the world in the most interesting ways.

Please enjoy, and whatever you may believe, happy holidays to you and yours!


Take Our Christmas Quiz!

Christmas Quiz


Fun Facts about Christmas

History of Christmas – History.com

Ten Ages of Christmas – BBC

How Christmas Went Commercial: A Brief History – Fast Company


Enjoy our special collection freely through January 31.

Evolution of Christmas

Christmas: A Candid History – by Bruce David Forbes

The Historian | Richard Chapman

“Arguing that Christmas has ever been a blend of beliefs, practices, and purposes, Forbes likens it to a snowball that collected and discarded items pell-mell as it rolled along.”

A Child’s Christmas in America: Santa Claus as Deity, Consumption as Religion

The Journal of American Culture | Russell W. Belk

“Although  various  treatments have attempted to trace the Santa Claus myth to  the  4th  century  Lycian  Bishop  of  Myra,  Saint Nicholas’, as well as to European mythical figures including the Dutch Sinterklaas, French Pere Noel, Swedish  Santa  Lucia  and  Jultomten,  Russian Babushka,  German  Christkindlein  and  Knecht Ruprecht, Spanish Three Kings, Italian Befana, and the  earlier  Roman  god  Saturn,  the  modern American  Santa Claus  bears  little resemblance  to any  of  these  older  myths  and  legends.”

The Strange Birth of Santa Claus: From Artemis the Goddess and Nicholas the Saint

The Journal of American Culture | Bruce Curtis

“Long ago and far away, so say the legends, there lived a Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, a bearded Father of the Catholic Church named Nicholas. This Patriarch  won  his  way  into the hearts of the people, recently converted from idolatry  to  Christianity, by destroying  the temple  of  Artemis, a many-breasted goddess of  the sea and of grain, a pagan Earth Mother who had a long and distinguished career as a midwife and protector of women.”

Leisure and Recreation

History | Douglas Reid

“Despite some serious resistance and much non-compliance with the Puritan regime, it seemed to late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth-century writers that Christmas observance and festivities had received a damaging blow: the talk was of decline and decay.”

Philosophy

Female Spirituality and the Infant Jesus in Late Medieval Dominican Convents

Gender & History | Ulinka Rublack

“Dominican Christmas  sermons,  however,  encouraged  their  audiences  to become ‘mother of Christ’ and to let their souls give spiritual birth to Christ.”

What’s in a(n Empty) Name?

Pacific Philosophical Quaterly | Fred Adams & Laura A. Dietrich

“The names ‘Santa’ and ‘Father Xmas’ share similar causal histories. They both come out of the same Western cultural tradition. They are both associated with the same lore – the same set of descriptions.”

Existential Scrooge: A Kierkegaardian Reading of A Christmas Carol

Literature Compass | Shale Preston

“A Christmas Carol is indeed historically important, so much so that it may have influenced or even inspired Søren Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety (1844).”

Chapter 19: Common Claus

Christmas—Philosophy For Everyone | Cindy Scheopner

“In a state with no racial or ethnic majority, religious views also demonstrate a variety uncommon on the mainland US. at a time when they seem most acute.”

Religion

The Circumstantial Evidence of the Virgin Birth

The Muslim World | Albertus Pieters

“To my mind, so far from the Virgin Birth being a byproduct of Christian imagination, or a thing that while true, was unnecessary and uninfluential in the origin of the Christian religion, it underlies the entire development.”

Are Angels Just a Matter of Faith?

The New Blackfriars | Dominic White OP

“I argue that a philosophically viable Catholic angelology would not only help many people within and outside the Church to make sense of their religious experience, but would offer a much richer conception of creation and God’s saving work.”

The Star of Christ in the Light of Astronomy

Zygon | Aaron Adair

“Although there were centuries of astrological speculation, this overview shows that naturalistic theories of the Star are a late innovation that began with apologetic attempts in the nineteenth century and not long after left the mainstream of biblical scholarship, leaving mostly astronomers to give credibility to this tale.”

Migration

 

The Christmas Cake: A Japanese Tradition of American Prosperity

The Journal of Popular Culture | Hideyo Konagaya

“For Japanese, Christmas continues to provide an arena to rehearse American values.”

 

Translation Acts: Afro-Peruvian Music in the United States

Journal of Popular Music Studies | Heidi Carolyn Feldman

“…the track “Panalivio” is based on the music of black Christmas. This Catholic festival, the legacy of slavery and Christianization, takes place in rural Chincha, Peru, a town mythologized during the revival as the cradle of black Peruvian music.”

 

New Ways to Write the History of Western Europe and the United States: The Concept of Intercultural Transfer

History Compass | Thomas Adam

“The trimming of Christmas evergreens emerged as part of the modern form of Christmas celebration among wealthy families in Germany during the Romantic period. From here it quickly spread across Europe and even to the New England states in the 1830s and 1840s.”

Literary Criticism

Herrick’s “Christmas Carol”: A New Poem, and Its Implications for Patronage

English Literary Renaissance | Tom Cain

“The religious and secular celebration of Christmas had been under increasing political thread in England and Wales since the Solemn League and Covenent was made with the Presbyterian Scots in September 1643.”

Milton’s On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity: The Virgilian and Biblical Matrices

Milton Quarterly | Donald Swanson & John Mulryan

“This wedding of the Virgilian and biblical matrices reminds us once again that  Milton  was  the  most learned poet of his time, even at the early age of twenty-one,  when he composed this astonishingly  precocious  poem.”

Creative Writing – Enjoy these original works of Christmas fiction from our journals

The Christmas morning Swim

Critical Quarterly | Robert Cremins

Christmas with Aunt Ama

Critical Quarterly | Yaba Badoe

The Kindness of Strangers

The Yale Review | Sheila Kohler

Schopenhauer – interview with the author

We recently sat down with Robert Wicks author of Schopenhauer. In this interview, Bob tells us about his abiding interest in this enigmatic and outcast figure, and along the way covers such diverse topics as Hinduism, Zen, Afghanistan and anchovy-and-onion pizzas. Enjoy!

Hi Bob. So, why did you decide to write Schopenhauer?

Well, I can’t say that I ever had the idea to write a book on Schopenhauer.  I’ve been teaching a class here in Auckland called “Schopenhauer and Nietzsche” for awhile now, and the book materialized by itself over time.  It just happened, really.  When I was putting the manuscript together, though, I did have an idea about who the ideal audience might be.  So this is who I wrote the book “for,” one could say.  It was for those who are on the edge, who live in the so-called “real world” Continue reading “Schopenhauer – interview with the author”

New Found Faith in Science

Newton by William Blake: Have scientists really turned their back on religion?

Atheists, look away now; scientists are not on your side. Or at least not as much as one might expect, according to recent evidence. In a study conducted by professor Elaine Howard Ecklund of Rice University, Texas, 1700 scientist were surveyed, along with 275 who were interviewed, as to their religious persuasion. Around 50% were admittedly religious in the traditional sense, and a further 20% were “spiritual” in a nonsectarian way. While religion amongst scientists is shown to be less prevalent in comparison to the population of the nation the data was collected in (the USA), this remains a surprising result. Continue reading “New Found Faith in Science”

Godless Do-Gooders

Dan Etherington, 2008

When you really need someone to do the right thing, don’t pick an atheist.  That, anyway, seems to be the opinion of the majority of Americans.  According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, 53% of eligible voters would not cast their ballots for a well-qualified atheist presidential candidate endorsed by their party.  In fact, American voters are less willing to vote for godless candidates than they are for a homosexual (43%), a seventy-two year old (42%), or a Mormon (24%).

Although the poll does not reveal the reasons behind the public’s suspicion of atheists, a variety of arguments endorsing suspicion of atheists can be gleaned from public discourse.  Perhaps the most common motivation for questioning the moral commitments of atheists is a certain view of the relationship between God’s will and morality: morally good actions (character traits, etc.) just are the ones God wills, and morally bad ones just are the ones God forbids.  This view of the basis of morality, which philosophers call Divine Command Theory, is often used to condemn various practices believers find unsavory, such as homosexuality.  It also gives believers a way to explain their suspicion of atheists: being moral amounts to doing what God commands, and atheists don’t care about that – they don’t even believe a god exists!

Despite its appeal to certain segments of the American public, philosophers have long noted that Divine Command Theory has its own serious problems.  After all, we can ask, does God will actions because they are good, or are actions good because God wills them?  If it’s the former, then Divine Command Theory doesn’t give us an account of what makes things morally good or bad, and the grounds for denying atheists moral motivation or access to moral truths dissolves away.  If it’s the latter, then we are committed to apparently implausible conclusions, such as that sacrificing and torturing a few children for a community party would be morally good if God willed it.  Although contemporary philosophers have developed more subtle versions of Divine Command Theory as part of an attempt to avoid these problems (see Mawson 2009), the existence of plausible non-theological accounts of the foundations of morality indicate that the atheist is nowhere near being on the ropes.

Indeed, atheists have started to throw punches of their own.  This holiday season in New York, a billboard financed by the group American Atheists greeted passersby with a challenge.  Over a depiction of the three wise men walking towards a stable, was the message: “You KNOW It’s a Myth.  This season, celebrate Reason.”  The British Humanist Association ran a similar advertising campaign, emblazoning buses with the slogan “There’s probably no god.  So stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Philosophers are currently exploring questions about the rationality or reasonableness of religious belief that could help us evaluate these claims.  Does the existence of rational life on Earth give us reason to conclude there is a divine creator (see Manson 2009)?  How can we rationally decide which religious tradition, if any, actually gets things right (see King 2008)?  Is it morally responsible to be a believer even if we cannot give evidence to justify our religious beliefs (see Bishop 2006)? With any luck, careful attention to these questions will help us get closer to deciding what, if anything, being religious or believing in God has to do with being rational, reasonable, or moral.  At the very least, we can hope that public debates about such things will move beyond mere jabs and unreflective suspicion.

References:

Bishop, John (2006), “The Philosophy of Religion: A Programmatic Overview,” Philosophy Compass 1/5: 506–534.

King, Nathan L. (2008), “Religious Diversity and Its Challenges to Religious Belief,” Philosophy Compass 3/4: 830–853.

Manson, Neil A. (2009), “The Fine-Tuning Argument,” Philosophy Compass 4/1: 271– 286.

Mawson, Tim (2009), “Morality and Religion,” Philosophy Compass 4/6: 1033–1043.

Banning Discussion of Suicide?

Newspaper and pages are currently impressed with the melancholoy story of two stangers (Joanne Lee and Steve Lumb) who met on a suicide discussion forum and subsequently met for the first time in order to fulfill a suicide pact, dying together in a fume-filled car.

Of course the circumstances of these deaths are incredibly sad and we should have sympathy for those affected by their demise. However, when individuals like the understandably distraught father of one of those now dead call for the banning of newsgroups and forums focused on suicide on the grounds that they provide an opportunity for depressed individuals to be both encouraged to end their own lives and instructed on preferred methods, they’re simply mistaking the medium of communication for the message. Continue reading “Banning Discussion of Suicide?”

Philosophy and LOST

Now that LOST has officially ended after six seasons, the question being asked is “was this a ‘long con?'”  Those of us who have been there since the beginning and stayed until the end are likely to have mixed feelings following this week’s finale, though the fact that there remain unanswered questions cannot be too much of a surprise.  Lost is well known for its elaborate and suggestive use of Eastern and Western mythologies, and for characters named after philosophers from the obvious (Bentham, Hume Locke, Rousseau) to the cleverly concealed (Bakunin, Burke, Godwin, C. S. Lewis) and the downright obscure (De Groot, Baba Ram Dass).  In addition, many scientific theories – including quantum mechanics, time travel, atomic energy and electromagnetism – all play an central part in the plot of the show alongside more fundamental philosophical questions about truth, identity, memory and morality.

Given the range and complexity of the ideas that make an appearance, and compounded by the temporal dislocation which serves as the show’s leitmotif, it’s no wonder that casual viewers started to feel increasingly ‘lost’ with a show  which finally ran to more than 90 hours. But it is undoubtedly the complexity and openness to interpretation which is woven into the narrative structure of the show that makes it such a flexible forum for exploring philosophical themes in a pop culture context. Continue reading “Philosophy and LOST”

Altruism – a ‘timed’ trait?

In a recent article in the New York Times, a study published in the PNAS was discussed, that looked closely at altruistic behavior in the face of a catastrophe. The events in question were the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and of the Lusitania in 1915. The former sank in the course of three hours while the latter only needed 18 minutes. The outcome of the study was that on the Titanic, more women and children were saved while on the Lusitania more men were saved. So, on the Titanic the ‘women and children first’ was heeded. The conclusion seems to be, that altruistic behavior has something to do with time. Nietzsche claimed Continue reading “Altruism – a ‘timed’ trait?”