On a festive and wintry edition of After Hours AM/America’s Most Haunted Radio — Thursdays 9-11pE with hosts Joel Sturgis and Eric Olsen — we revel in weird Christmas customs, the evolution of Santa Claus, and the recurrent War on Christmas with Gerry Bowler, foremost Yuletide historian and author of The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, Santa Claus: A Biography, and most recently, Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most-Celebrated Holiday. Gerry joins us at 10pE; at 9pE Joel and Eric ponder the new year’s most edifying paranormal news from the America’s Most Haunted Twitter feed.
Though in simplest terms, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and the salvation of mankind, a bewildering and bizarre assortment of customs have evolved around the world throughout the history of our most important holiday. Among them are the pooping log of southern France and northern Spain; the peasant pooper in Catalonian nativity scenes; werewolves and Christmas; Christmas witches; kidnapping the baby Jesus; Mari Lwyd, the party animal horse skull of Wales; the astonishing mutation of Santa Claus; mistletoe; the Yule log, Krampus, and the tenaciously recurring War on Christmas.
Christmas In the Crosshairs
An Anglican priest hands out brass knuckles to his congregation, preparing to battle anti-Christmas fanatics. Fascists insist that the Winter Solstice is the real Christmas, while Communists stage atheist musicals outside of churches on Christmas Eve. Activists vandalize shops that start touting the holiday in October and anti-consumerists sing parody carols in shopping malls. Is there a war on Christmas? As Gerry Bowler demonstrates in Christmas in the Crosshairs, there is and always has been a war, or several wars, on Christmas.
A cherished global phenomenon, Christmas is the biggest single event on the planet. For Christians it is the second-most sacred date on the calendar, but it also engages billions of people who are caught up in its commercialism, music, sentiment, travel, and frenetic busyness. Since its controversial invention in the Roman Empire, Christmas has struggled with paganism, popular culture, and fierce Christian opposition; faced abolition in Scotland and New England; and braved neglect and near-death in the 1700s, only to be miraculously reinvented in the 1800s. The twentieth century saw it banned by Bolsheviks and twisted by Nazis. Since then, special interest groups of every stripe have used the holiday’s massive popularity to draw attention to their causes.
Christmas in the Crosshairs tells the story of the tug-of-war over Christmas, replete with cross-dressing priests, ranting Puritans, and atheist witches. In this eye-opening history of Christmas and its opponents from the beginning up to the present day, Bowler gives us a shocking, and richly entertaining, new look at the tradition we thought we knew so well.
Gerry Bowler was born in Saskatchewan, Canada to well-meaning parents who supplied him at an early age with sets of encyclopedias bought on the installment plan from supermarkets which invariably ceased selling them before the family had reached the letter “H”. Superbly grounded in subjects beginning with “A” to “G”, Gerry was raised on a diet of beatings at recess from class-mates who regarded him as an insufferable little smart-ass. He survived the educational process by developing a sense of humor and a keen eye for the nearest exit, eventually earning a Ph.D. in History from King’s College, London.
Gerry’s writings range from academic texts on sixteenth-century Europe to musings on the relationship of Aristotle to professional wrestling. He has published articles on Wayne Gretzky, the Spice Girls, television evangelists and Emperor Charles V. He is the only historian whose work is included in both The Encyclopedia of the Renaissance and The Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.
His interest in things Christmassy began when he was invited to a party and was asked to bring a little quiz on the subject. This innocent request turned into 25 years of research and a desire, bordering on the pathological, to learn everything there was to know about Christmas: its history, customs, superstitions, songs, foods, movies, art, advertising and literature. The fruits of this labor can be seen in The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, Santa Claus: A Biography, and Christmas in the Crosshairs: Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World’s Most-Celebrated Holiday.
Gerry lives in Winnipeg with his wife Karen where he is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, concentrating on the culture wars.
by Gerry Bowler [Oxford University Press]