The Pequod Review:
Stephen Nissenbaum's superb book The Battle for Christmas details the complex history of Christmas in America, beginning with the Puritans (who banned any celebrations of the holiday), through the 1800s (when Christmas began to be celebrated regionally, with rowdy and class-conscious overtones), and especially the 1900s (when commercial impulses merged with elite repression of popular movements to create the tamer and more festive holiday we know today). Nissenbaum brings a refreshing voice of reason to nostalgic desires to recapture a supposedly purer past:
People who fervently believe in market capitalism sometimes blame it for cheapening Christmas. But what this book has suggested is that there never was a time when Christmas existed as an unsullied domestic idyll, immune to the taint of commercialism. It has argued that the domestic Christmas was the commercial Christmas—commercial from its earliest stages, commercial at its very core. Indeed, the domestic Christmas was itself a force in the spread of consumer capitalism.
The best works of cultural history use a specific subject as a window into broader features of society; The Battle for Christmas fully accomplishes this, and does it in an entertaining and intelligent way.