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Merry Christmas!: Celebrating…

Merry Christmas!: Celebrating America’s Greatest Holiday (original 2000; edition 2001)

by Karal Ann Marling

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Title:Merry Christmas!: Celebrating America’s Greatest Holiday
Authors:Karal Ann Marling
Info:Harvard University Press (2001), Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

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Merry Christmas! : Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday by Karal Ann Marling (2000)



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Karal Ann Marling is an art historian at the University of Minnesota whose specialty is American visual culture. (She has also written a book on the Minnesota State Fair.) Merry Christmas! is thus a book which delves deeply into the history of the Christmas tree, Santa Claus, the Christmas card and wrapping paper, among other manifestations of the secular side of American Christmas. It must have been fun to research and write this book -- poring over old issues of Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, visiting the Hallmark Archives and the Coca-Cola Museum -- all things I'd love to do myself. Marling writes interestingly and has selected numerous illustrations, carefully described in the text to help the reader see things in the pictures that might have been missed in a cursory glance.
An extra fillip was added to this book for me, since Marling understandably brings in a fair bit of Minneapolis commercial Christmas history, particularly from Dayton's Department Store. After years of taking the children to the Dayton's Christmas auditorium show, I enjoyed learning more about its history. There was even a section on Santabear! Marling does not mention the Holidazzle Parade, although she does have a section on Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The book was published in 2000, so perhaps the Holidazzle (an evening parade with costumed volunteers) was too new to make it in.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Christmas and American culture. It took me all through the Christmas season, read in short breaks from other activities, and I learned many interesting facts. I also learned to see many familiar sights in a new way. ( )
  auntieknickers | May 24, 2013 |
A quick preview of Merry Christmas! Celebrating America's Greatest Holiday by Karal Ann Marling made me think that this was someone's dissertation. The book has 442 pages (which includes 67 pages of endnotes, a six-page index, and four pages of acknowledgements) and few illustrations, all of which are in black-and-white. It was published by Harvard University Press. It turns out I wasn't too far from the truth. Marling is currently a professor in both art history and American studies at the University of Minnesota, and a "well-known specialist in American culture."

In her preface, Marling states that the book is "about the visual and material culture of Christmas in America." In nine (long) chapters, Marling discusses various aspects of the American Christmas such as gift wrap, decorations (greenery, lights, ornaments, toy villages), trees, Santa Claus, and retail (window displays, parades, and store Santas), and their evolution over time.

She uses period illustrations from magazines and advertisements to illustrate many of her points. Some of these are included in the book, but many are not; they are only described. This was a weakness of the book, in my opinion, as I really wanted to "see" what she was talking about. None of the included illustrations are in color (even though, for example, Norman Rockwell's famous Saturday Evening Post covers were done in color).

At times the writing feels forced and dry, as if Marling was trying to include every bit of research she did in the book, and more illustrations would have helped relieve this (plus made some of her points better). However, I suppose including more illustrations would have made the book even longer than it is. I particularly liked the last two chapters, on greeting cards and gifts and on Christmas songs, movies, and television specials. ( )
3 vote riofriotex | Jan 6, 2010 |
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A recent survey reveals that 96 percent of all American households wrap their Christmas presents-an average of thirty-seven gifts per home, muffled in printed paper and wads of Scotch tape.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674006798, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:47 -0400)

Describes the outsize spectacle that Christmas has become, showing 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. Includes information on Dayton department stores' Santabear.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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