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

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Philosophy at Christmas – gawd bless us, *every one*.

Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone

Better Than a Lump of Coal

Fritz AllhoffScott C. Lowe

From the blurb:

From Santa, elves and Ebenezer Scrooge, to the culture wars and virgin birth, Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone explores a host of philosophical issues raised by the practices and beliefs surrounding Christmas. Offers thoughtful and humorous philosophical insights into the most widely celebrated holiday in the Western world Contributions come from a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, theology, religious studies, English literature, cognitive science and moral psychology The essays cover a wide range of Christmas themes, from a defence of the miracle of the virgin birth to the relevance of Christmas to atheists and pagans

Christmas and Philosophy

Christmas - Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of CoalWe recently caught up with Scott C. Lowe, professor and chair in the Philosophy Department at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and editor of Christmas – Philosophy for Everyone: Better Than a Lump of Coal. He is also the author of “Ebenezer Scrooge – Man of Principle” which appeared in Think magazine in 2009. His philosophical interests are in political and legal philosophy. He hopes his students think of him as the reformed Scrooge at the end of the story, not the hard hearted Scrooge who meets the ghost of Jacob Marley.

PE: Why did you decide to edit a book on Christmas and philosophy?

SCL: It started with an article I published on Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s a great example of the role of character in morality which is a hot debate in ethics these days. From there it struck me that there are a lot of interesting questions about Christmas that philosophers might have something to say about. Continue reading “Christmas and Philosophy”

Tragic atheism, why?

Over the last month I’ve seen a bunch of posts debating religious belief similar to this from Damon Linker:

Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God, the new atheists rudely insist, usually without argument, that atheism is a glorious, unambiguous benefit to mankind both individually and collectively. There are no disappointments recorded in the pages of their books, no struggles or sense of loss… The studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious.

I’m totally in the dark about why Linker thinks a loss of faith should be accompanied by a permanent sense of loss.

When a kid learns there’s no Santa Claus, there usually is a sense of loss:  it’s sad to find out that there’s no benevolent toy-maker.

But this sense of loss is short-lived. It doesn’t take long to realize that Christmas is pretty awesome, even without Santa. You get time off work, you give and get presents, you spend time with family and splurge on food.  Before long, you realize that Santa has nothing to do with what’s great about Christmas– and he never did.

A Santa-believing analog of Linker would say: “Those who claim to embrace happily a Santa-less Christmas have failed to grapple with the true horror of Santa-less-ness. I can respect those who don’t believe in Santa. I just can’t respect those who aren’t made permanently gloomy by their non-belief.”  This is a silly thing to say!  All the good stuff about Christmas is still there.

Related articles:

Hume on Miracles
By James E. Taylor, Westmont College (June 2007)
Philosophy Compass

Science, Santa Claus, and Philosophy

If you are one of those Santa-skeptics (you know–the kind who thinks Mom and Dad are responsible for all those presents under your Christmas tree) then there’s a book written just for you: The Truth About Santa, by Gregory Mone.  This book is for readers who respect science enough to know that the traditional story of Santa Claus faces serious and familiar challenges.  For instance, according to animal physiologists, reindeer can’t fly; a thorough study of satellite images fails to reveal a workshop at the North Pole; and rudimentary mathematical skills are enough to confirm that a journey to two-hundred-million chimneys takes 190 years (not one night) if each stop lasts only thirty seconds.

How, according to Mone, does Santa do it?  Simple: Continue reading “Science, Santa Claus, and Philosophy”