REVIEWSrnThe Ghosts ofrnChristmas Pastrnby Wayne AUensworthrnThe Battle for Christmasrnby Stephen NissenbaumrnNew York: Alfred A. Knopf;rn319 pp., $30.00rn|V ow in history,” wrote Chester-rn-L 1 ton, “there is no Revolutionrnthat is not a Restoration.” A collectivernmemoT}’, a vague but compelling collectionrnof shadows that bind us to the past,rnseems to whisper a perennial, bittersweetrnhymn to the numbed ear of man, particularlyrnmodern man. Every nation, tribe,rnor clan has passed on tales of a goldenrnpast to its children, transmitted by priests,rnvillage elders, and prophets of restoration.rnBut in the modern age, as Chestertonrnwarned us, we are forced “to ask forrnnew things because we are not allowedrnto ask for old things.” Nevertheless,rnwhatever new things we come up with,rnartificial though they may be, are manifestahonsrnof the perennial longing for arnrestoration of a harmony sensed, but neverrnclearly perceived, since the Fall. It isrnthe desire for such a restoration thatrndrives the “battle for Christmas,”rnAs Stephen Nissenbaum relates in thisrnstudy of the evolution of the Christmasrnholiday, “It was only in the fourth centuryrnthat the Church officially decided tornobserve Christmas on December 25.”rnThe Church, it appears, chose the datern”not for religious reasons” but because itrnmarked the “approximate arrival of thernwinter solstice”; an event, as Mr. Nissenbaumrnnotes, “that was celebratedrnlong before the advent of Christianit}’.”rnThe first “battle for Christmas” was on.rnThe Church’s goal was to harmonizernthe Church calendar with a naturalrnrhythm of existence that made the periodrnof late fall through the new year arntime of feasting and rest in an agriculturalrnsociety. The harvest was in, the libationsrnthat would quench the thirst of thernfeasters ready, and the yeoman farmer,rnpeasant, serf, or slave indulged in thernconsumption of a rare festive meal ofrnfresh meat. While rejecting the paganrnSaturnalia, the Church wisely adapted itselfrnto a seasonal, rhythmic existence ofrnwork and rest, feast and worship that was,rnafter all, ordained by the Creator of thernseasons (and of the Sabbath) HimselfrnThe adaptation of the Christian calendarrnto the winter festival was an effort tornabsorb and transform the pagan carnival,rnitself a reflection (though a distorted onernin the eyes of these early Christians) ofrnman’s natural role within a created worldrnthat God had deemed \ orth saving. ThernPuritans outlawed the “keeping ofrnChristmas” because of its “un-Scriptural”rnnature, its association with paganism,rnand the lingering insistence byrnmany common folk on an extended festivernbout of heavy drinking and whatrnwere once known as “sins of the flesh.”rnBut even the austere tribe of IncreasernMather adapted the seasonal feastrn(Thanksgiving) to their dignified, if grim,rnversion of Christianity.rnElements of the carnival lingered onrnas they do to this day (the New Year’s Evernparty, for instance), despite the efforts ofrnChristians to coopt the Saturnalia; butrncertain of its aspects, as Mr. Nissenbaumrnpoints out, served social purposes thatrnthe Church Fathers probably saw as necessar)’,rnand unrelated to paganism. Wassailing,rnthe European and early Americanrntradition of a face-to-face exchangernof gifts (a song for the best that could bernoffered in beer, whiskey, or food) betweenrnthe rich and the poor, artisan andrnapprentice, or master and slave, appearsrnto have satisfied some urgent need withinrnthe participants to demonstrate mutualrngood will and reciprocit)’, to affirm statusrn(often by reversing it, with the ser’antrntaking on the role of the landlord, the apprenticernthat of the artisan, or the slavernthat of the master), while confirmingrnfunction and purpose.rnMr. Nissenbaum is inclined to highlightrnthe role that the winter carnivalrngift exchange played in cementing anrnexploitive feudal social order which preventedrnsocial upheaval. The lower orders,rnit appears, were constantiy attemptingrnto extend the “Holyday” into orrnbeyond the “h’elve da}s of Christmas”rnand push the limits ot acceptable rowdinessrnand misride, even as landlords andrnpriests attempted to rein in their sometimesrnaggressive and destructive behavior.rnStill, he does recognize that somethingrnvaluable was lost in the transitionrnmade by the Western world from feudalismrnto industrial capitalism and centralized,rnbureaucratic government.rnThe modern, “domestic” Christmasrncenters on Dutch and German practicesrnborrowed and promoted by the aristocraticrnKnickerbocker set of early 19thcenturyrnNew York: an example of whatrnhistorians call “invented traditions.” Mr.rnNissenbaum convincingly demonstratesrnthat the Christmas festival of SantarnGlaus, Christmas trees, and a transformedrngift exchange (from parents torndependent children, later among friendsrnand extended family) developed as arncountermeasure to modernity’s erosionrnof community. The industrialization ofrnthe Northeast had transformed social relationsrnby eliminating seasonal rhythm,rnthe uncertaint)’ of status, and the loss ofrnopportunities for “face-to-face” expressionsrnof good will in a rapidly urbanizingrnenvironment. Members of the “lonelyrncrowd” simply did not know who or whatrnthey were, or what purpose they served inrna society that was beginning to regard itsrncitizens as expendable cogs in a perpetualrnmotion machine called “the economy.”rnThe wassailing of the seasonal festivalrnhad degenerated into mob behaviorrnby a displaced proletariat, the gift exchangernbeing marked by aggressive beggingrnthat bordered on mugging.rnThe industrialist or mass-scale merchantrnwas not the head of a communityrnbound by reciprocity and a sense ofrnplace. He did not claim—as the head ofrnthe household, the landlord, the master,rnor the artisan did —that his dependentsrnenjoyed the entitiements of an extendedrnfamily that promised mutual aid and assuredrnfunction and status for all its members.rnDuring the 19th century, demandsrnthat the state mandate and enforce vacationrndays, working hours, and holidaysrnwere strongest in New England, at thatrntime the most heavil)’ industrialized regionrnof the United States. “In otherrnwords, Washington’s birthday was not affordedrnlegal recognition simply for ‘patriotic’rnreasons, nor was Christmas affordedrnthat recognition simply out of ‘religious’rnconsiderations.” The “battle for Christ-rn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn