The Surprising Origins of Christmas Traditions

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Christmas in Victorian Britain
1: Christmas in Victorian Britain

Many of the elements of Christmas that we take for granted today were not associated with the holiday until the Victorian era. For example: gift giving, trees, singing carols, Christmas dinner, and sending Christmas cards all came from Victorian Britain. This period also brought some unusual practices that we no longer partake in, such as a (surprisingly often violent) game school children would play, in which they would lock their teachers outside. Dive into the traditions we kept and those that fell to the wayside over the years.

25 min
Christmas in Victorian America
2: Christmas in Victorian America

If some of the Christmas traditions during the Victorian period seem unusual, then shift your attention to early America. From noisy, rancorous, and dangerous parades held in Philadelphia and New York to a tradition that involved cracking whips at children while they tried to collect candy and nuts, Christmas practices in America have undergone several evolutions. Uncover some of the most unusual traditions and learn how retail holiday windows, Christmas bonuses, and a jolly, friendly version of Santa Claus all grew from the American melting pot.

28 min
Patrick N. Allitt

Nostalgia is the enemy of history. 'Downton Abbey' is great fun but it's not history. If seeing or reading something historical makes you feel warm and cosy, it's probably very inaccurate.

ALMA MATER

University of California, Berkeley

INSTITUTION

Emory University

About Patrick N. Allitt

Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching and Curriculum from 2004 to 2009, where he looked for ways to improve teaching. In this critical administrative position, he led workshops on a wide variety of teaching-related problems, visited dozens of other professors' classes, and provided one-on-one consultation to teachers to help them overcome particular pedagogical problems. Professor Allitt was honored with Emory's Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2000 was appointed to the N.E.H./Arthur Blank Professorship of Teaching in the Humanities. A widely published and award-winning author, Professor Allitt has written several books, including The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950-1985; Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome; and Religion in America since 1945: A History. He is also author of I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom, a memoir about one semester in his life as a university professor. In addition, he is the editor of Major Problems in American Religious History. He has written numerous articles and reviews for academic and popular journals, including The New York Times Book Review.

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