cover image INVENTING CHRISTMAS: How Our Holiday Came to Be

INVENTING CHRISTMAS: How Our Holiday Came to Be

Jock Elliott, . . Abrams, $24.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-8109-3493-1

If Christmas did not exist, Madison Avenue would have to invent it. Yet as Elliott shows in this beautiful book, not only is the Christmas season a time of lavish spending and entertaining, it also brings with it a flood of images and customs and totems that has come to epitomize what happiness with family and friends should look like. Not only is Elliott chairman emeritus of the advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, he is also a man who was given wonderful Christmas celebrations as a child. Over his more than 80 years, he has learned a great deal about the holiday he loves. Drawing on his collection of more than 3,000 pieces of Christmas ephemera, including such extraordinary possessions as Charles Dickens's reading copy of A Christmas Carol, Elliott tells the beguiling tale of how this most dual—sacred and secular—of human festivals came into being. Nodding to its earliest origins, Elliott focuses on the "invented traditions." "Most of our Christmas customs," he explains, "were invented in an amazingly short twenty-five-year period, from 1823–1848—a sort of 'Big Bang' of our Christmas." Gorgeous illustrations by Thomas Nast (who created the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey) show the invention of Santa Claus, which began with a story by Washington Irving and culminated in "The Night Before Christmas" by Clement Clarke Moore. Nast's vision became iconic, but Elliott persuades us that a trio of New Yorkers—Irving, the holiday booster John Pintard and Moore—invented the child-centered family holiday that we know today. Further chapters cover the introduction of Christmas trees and Christmas cards, Christmas carols and Dickens's influence on our understanding of Christmas. Opening this book each year deserves to be a tradition in itself. (Dec.)