Penguin Random House Penguin Random House
image from Penguin Random House
The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum
If you like to take the mystery out of things by putting them into a historical context have I got a book for you. The Battle for Christmas is not about the phrase "war on Christmas" and all of the BS that conjures. This book is about how Christmas evolved from a rowdy public festival into the more family-focused holiday people practice today. Nissenbaum also explores the origins of Christmas trees, Santa, and gift-giving. He supports his arguments with detailed historic documents and reading it feels like visting a familiar but alternate universe. I like to revisit this book every year around this time as my family cuts down a tree, hauls it inside, and puts shiny things on it.

For a lighter take on the history behind Christmas traditions check out Mark Forsyth's A Christmas Cornucopia. I'm a big fan of Forsyth's books about language (especially The Elements of Eloquence) and he brings his same humor and love of language to this topic.
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