02 January 2018

"Old Christmas" from the Source

December 25th: The Joys of Christmas Past, Phillip Snyder
When Snyder set out to do a book on antique Christmas ornaments, he found himself reading nineteenth-century newspapers on microfilm, chiefly from New York City. He was so enchanted by the reports of Christmas celebrations that he continued reading and came up with this book, designed to take you "way back when" to see how the holidays (and they were called that, even back then, because the custom was originally to give gifts at New Year) were celebrated.

Incorporating the words and descriptions of the unnamed reporters of the day, supplemented by a five-page bibliography and a dozen magazine articles, we discover the sights, sounds, and smells of the Christmas food markets in Victorian-era New York City and discover what prodigious feasts those who could afford them had; read about the racket that used to greet Christmas day, whether it be small boys with horns or men pounding gunpowder on anvils; the sheer fatigue of the overworked store clerks, delivery boys, elevator operators and other sales employees in the days when stores stayed open through midnight on Christmas Eve; the experience of a sleigh ride one snowy Christmas; the unfortunate drunkenness that accompanied Christmas celebrations; the first department store Santa Claus (and where that jolly old persona came from); and more, from Christmas trees to live evergreen roping to sacred music to the delightful experience of an elderly man "taking a slide" one Yuletide night.

Snyder takes care that the experiences sound as first hand as possible, taking his narrative directly from the newspaper reports, which gives you a "first hand" appearance that most histories of Christmas do not. In addition, the book contains old illustrations and woodcuts from newspapers and the reference books to enhance the experience (the development of the "look" of Santa Claus, street scenes, market scenes, etc.). If you're at all interested in the history of American Christmas celebrations (or non-celebrations, as in Puritan-influenced New England), you will enjoy this book!

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