Christmas at the White House with Winston Churchill

After Pearl Harbor, the British prime minister insisted on visiting President Roosevelt in Washington. On a cold December 22, 1941, an airplane carrying Winston Churchill touched down at an airfield near Washington, D.C. The prime minister had come to pay a visit to President Franklin Roosevelt and discuss how Britain and the United States could[…]

How Washington Irving Shaped Christmas in America

The famous Knickerbocker was all about Saint Nick. Thanks to “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” his creepy tale about an ungainly schoolteacher who vanishes mysteriously in the woods, Washington Irving is perhaps best known to modern readers as an author to read on Halloween. But Irving wrote much more about yuletide—so widely and imaginatively, in[…]

Ghosts in ‘A Christmas Carol’: Comical, Grotesque, Allegorical

Reflecting on their essential role in developing the novel’s meaning and structure. Introduction There had been ghosts in literature before the Victorians, but the ghost story as a distinct and popular genre was the invention of the Victorians. Charles Dickens was hugely influential in establishing the genre’s popularity – not only as a writer but[…]

Sugar, Spice, and Christmas with Samuel Pepys in the Early Modern World

Pepys was a rising star in the administration of the royal navy, and life for the sailors aboard the navy’s ships was tough. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist of the mid-seventeenth century, enjoyed Christmas.  In 1661 he recorded spending a merry evening with friends; five years later, he wrote that he and his household ‘dined[…]

Chocolate Wine: Indulgent Drinking at Christmas in Georgian England

The ability to access new luxury goods was a sign of status. There are many indulgent foods that are synonymous with Christmas today, but two of the key ones must surely be chocolate and alcohol.  True, the turkey and its trimmings are Christmas classics, but it’s those festive extras – the champagne at breakfast, and[…]

Why the Puritans Cracked Down on Celebrating Christmas

It was less about their asceticism and more about rejecting the world they had fled. Introduction When winter cold settles in across the U.S., the alleged “War on Christmas” heats up. In recent years, department store greeters and Starbucks cups have sparked furor by wishing customers “happy holidays.” This year, with state officials warning of[…]

Giving at Christmas Time in the Middle Ages

Christmas gifts were a well-established part of the medieval year. The traditions of giving to the less fortunate is alive and well today and many of us will receive leaflets about Christmas charity campaigns through our doors this festive, and witness charity fundraising events whilst out and about. One tradition which has a long heritage[…]

Saturnalia: The Wild Holiday that Turned Ancient Rome Upside Down

How the Romans celebrated Saturnalia. Happy Saturnalia! This ancient Roman holiday honors Saturn, the god of seed-sowing, and celebrates the promise of a spring harvest. Originally just one day, over the centuries the festivities grew to last a whole week, starting on December 17 and coinciding with the winter solstice.⁠⠀ In Rome, the holiday was[…]