Martin Spence is Associate Professor of History at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is writing for us this weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City. Enjoy! –JF
It may be January 3, but it’s always Christmas in New York. And if any historians possessed the knowledge about how to keep Christmas well, it was the five who led one of the first panels at the ASCH Winter meeting at the Parker Hotel, New York.
The papers were culled from the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Christmas, an inter-disciplinary study of the theology, history, sociology, liturgy and culture of Christmas which editor Timothy Larsen (Wheaton College) assured us will be published just in time for….Easter.
The panelists, Katrina Jennie-Lou Wheeler (City University of New York),David Thomas Orique (Providence College), Daniel Vaca (Brown University), and Timothy Larsen, all emphasized how Christmas has been a site of cultural contest since the early modern era. Larsen’s revelation that nonconformist Evangelicals who did much to popularize Santa Claus in late Victorian Anglo-America was particularly intriguing, especially as a counterpoise to the common belief that a secular Santa has shoved Jesus out of the manger. Meanwhile David Thomas Orique showed how the celebration of Christmas was both a point of friction and a zone of assimilation for European, Native and African cultures in post-Columbian America. Daniel Vaca touched on the multivariate narratives of Christmas and their role in mediating idealized visions of domesticity, pleasure, and social harmony. Katrina Jennie-Lou Wheeler took us back to the original “war on Christmas” in Tudor and Stuart England.
Lo! Two blocks East of the conference venue shines the great light of Trump Tower, and inevitably the forty-fifth President made a (virtual) appearance at the panel when panel commentator and chair Margaret Bendroth (Congregational Archives and Library) raised Trump’s recent “Miracle of Christmas” rally at Battle Creek, MI. Bendroth asked whether it is actually the “powers that be,”—posing as the faux champions of Christmas to serve political-cultural ends—who may be the real Grinches.