Did you know that Christmas as we know it has only been in existence since about the mid-nineteenth century? The season has become so all-consuming that it’s hard to imagine a time when the holiday didn’t immediately bring to mind decorated evergreens, rounds of gift-giving, and a big, jolly, red-suited elf. This workshop will explore the way Christmas in America changed during the nineteenth century from a banned day of revelry in the colonial period into the domestic and commercial celebration we know today. The AAS collections are rich with material illustrating the shifting traditions surrounding the holiday, including books, children’s literature, manuscripts, periodicals, sermons, broadsides, music, and a wide variety of ephemera, all of which participants will explore during the workshop.
Stephen Nissenbaum (elected 1982), professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will be lead scholar for this program. Among his many works on early America is the The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize when it was published in 1996. Nissenbaum researched this work at the Society as an AAS-National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow.