by Michael Barber
I’m not an expert at Christmas, but it’s a holiday that fascinates me which leads me to read a lot on it. So, maybe I’m a kind of a demi-expert? Suffice it to say, it’s getting harder to surprise me with origin stories about the season.
Michael Barber’s book had more than a few surprises for me and it had a fresh take on a subject that is impossible to beat to death – though each year the entire commercial world tries it’s hardest. I think it helps that it’s a holiday celebrating the Incarnation of God and, therefore, provides limitless opportunity for contemplation and discovery.
Barber takes the reader through practically every aspect of Christmas from the scriptural to the (skip the next sentence, Protestants) traditional. He shows, very well, that Jesus is the Messiah that was prophesied so much in the Old Testament. He also shows that Christmas is, indeed, a very Christian holiday and that any similarities to Pagan winter holidays are coincidental. In fact, how the day of Christ’s birth was figured was fascinating and very cool. And I loved, loved, loved the reason why the Christmas Mass is at midnight. Saint John Chrysostom applied the verse from Wisdom 18:14-15 to the birth of the savior. It is an amazing passage that is truly revealed in light of the Incarnation.
The story of the evolution of the American Santa Claus was the most thorough treatment of it I’ve ever read. It involved Washington Irving, (who, it turns out, influenced Charles Dickens’ Christmas writings) and rehabbing the holiday which wasn’t always legal in this country (thanks Puritans) and, for some, was used to get drunk and extort people. It was interesting to read how American Christmas got its Extreme Makeover.
The whole book was like this. It has small, bite-sized sections that are all filled with lots of engaging information. It was excellent to read through during Advent as a daily reader but it has 12 chapters, so you could also try to do a chapter a day for the 12 days of Christmas to keep the Christmas season going long after the world has dropped it likes it’s hot.
I would definitely recommend.