‘Yule-tide in Many Lands’ by Clara A. Urann and Mary Poague Pringle

I’ve seen a lot of ‘true spirit of Christmas’ books and shows around, but in the last few decades we’ve become a bit caught up in our own mythology.  It’s Christian, or it’s Santa stories or Dicken’s Christmas Carol, and that’s that. Yule-tide in Many Lands collates illustrations, poems and song lyrics, and short histories of regionally specific Christmas traditions.

Though the content is pretty brief, I am really happy with how this book starts.  It identifies the man rituals and concepts around Christmas and Yuletide, and attaches them to mythologies and cultures where they originated.  It only started to irk me a few pages in, when the transition to Christianity is described as making the holiday purer and better (despite all of the rituals and habits remaining quite the same).

Cute titbits include the abolishment of the celebrations in Churches in the 1600s (one can only assume they were re-instated soon after).  Urann and Pringle sadly write that since that time, Christmas in Britain has entirely lost its boisterousness.  Germany is credited with the best toys and sweets, as well as some awesome tree origin history and the charitable habit of taking the poor in to give gifts of food and clothing.  The Scandinavian lands of reindeer are described as impoverished and devoid of Christmas cheer, though they make do with the despicable pleasures of family company, booze, and marrying each other.

The Swedish wife is relieved of the burden of making pies, as her people know nothing about that indigestible mixture so acceptable to American palates.

What is interesting towards the end, is the descriptions of early American Christmases.  Rejecting the opulence or structure of old-world rituals for reasons of survival and cultural identity, Christmases were sparse, at times and in places forbidden, and a point of contention between workers and their governor.  It wasn’t until the late 1600s and early 1700s that Christmas really was celebrated openly and publicly, and suddenly Thanksgiving makes a lot more sense to me.  Everyone wants an autumn/winter festival of food, after all.

Australia is, of course, invisible, as are most other colonies and Asian countries.  But there’s an index, which is quite nice.  For something published in Boston in 1916, it’s quite interesting.  It’s also nice to come across an American book in which American culture gets the last (instead of first) treatment, and without a necessarily emotional or sweetened viewpoint.  The only thing really romanticised is presents and food, and that’s in my mind somewhat inevitable at Christmas.  This made for a fun read, and a bit of an insight into some European and American culture that I haven’t really had before.  Anyone who thinks that American Christmases are represented by what filters through our television sets this time of year really should read this book, or one like it.

There’s no reviews around I could find for this one, but you can read it yourself at Project Gutenberg.

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