It wouldn’t be Christmas without the “things.” How they came to mean so much, and to play such a prominent role in America’s central holiday, is the tale told in this delightful and edifying book. In a style characteristically engaging and erudite, Karal Ann Marling, one of our most trenchant observers of American culture, describes the outsize spectacle that Christmas has become, showing us the provenance and significance of each of its essential parts: the decorated trees and holiday lights, the cards and gifts and wrapping papers, the toy villages and store displays and Macy’s holiday parade, Bing Crosby and Santa Claus.
Viewing Christmas through the media of mass culture—engravings and lithographs, magazine fiction, pictorial ads, news photos, cards, and movies—Marling tells us how the beloved Christmas tree grew out of a much-reprinted image of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around a decorated fir; how Santa Claus lost his provincial Dutch character and turned into the jolly old soul we know; how Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol borrowed from Washington Irving’s imaginings of what Christmas must have been like in Merrie Olde England; and how the holiday, balancing between the private and public realms, conferred a central and defining role on women.
A celebration of the visual culture of the season, Merry Christmas! offers captivating evidence that Christmas in America is primarily a secular celebration of abundance, goodwill, and familial identity, expressed in a multitude of material ways.