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The World Encyclopedia of Christmas [Paperback]

Gerry Bowler
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 5 2004
At last, a truly comprehensive look at Christmas and all of its customs with its long history around the world. The World Encyclopedia of Christmas contains articles on the history of Christmas baking, drinking, and merrymaking, and Christmas dramas, music, literature, art, and films. It includes entries on the evolution of the Christmas tree and the Christmas card, gift-giving, and decoration of church and home. There are profiles of the many gift-bringers, from Santa Claus to Babouschka, and miraculous tales of the numerous saints associated with the season. And there are histories of seasonal celebrations and folk customs around the world, from the United States to Japan, from Egypt to Iceland.

Who, for example, knew the links between the Punch and Judy show and Christmas? That the medieval Paradise tree hung with tempting apples was the forerunner of the Christmas tree? About the Peerie Guizers, who terrorized the Shetland Islands, going door-to-door for Christmas charity? Or what Freudians make of our interest in Christmas stockings and Santa’s entrance through the chimney? There are detailed accounts of Wren Boys and Star Boys, mumming and wassailing, the Feast of Fools and the origins of eggnog. And of course stories of the Nativity and legends of the Magi.

With beautifully illustrated accounts ranging from the pagan roots of Yuletide, through the birth of Christ, and the long and fascinating history of the festival ever since, The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, is a rich and continually surprising array of religious and secular history, trivia, literature, and art. This wonderful book deserves to find a home with every family that celebrates Christmas.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Description

From Booklist

This encyclopedia is described as a "truly comprehensive look at Christmas and all its customs" on its book jacket. It provides more than 1,000 entries on worldwide secular and religious Christmas practices expressed in song, literature, events, film, arts, and trivia and is aimed at young adult and adult readers as well as researchers. Entries are primarily descriptive, but a number of them, especially those on films, contain critical commentary.

The entries proceed from A to Z with a liberal number of black-and-white illustrations and 16 pages of color plates. An entry heading is in boldface if it is historical or factual; in italics if it is a book, film title, or foreign phrase; and in quotation marks if it is a song or short story title. Cross-references are in capital letters or given as a see item. Notable among the entries are Quotes about Christmas, which lists quotations related to the season; a chronology of December 25 events; discussions of films such as A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life; entries giving the histories as well as the words of individual songs and carols; and descriptions of practices like mumming.

A serious shortcoming is the lack of a detailed index, which would bring together the various songs, carols, films, etc., that are referred to within the various entries. Lack of a bibliography or list of sources is another weakness, as is the fact that the scope is not explained in the introduction. Some countries have been omitted, including much of Africa, India, Korea, and Turkey. Finally, the illustrations, though they are captioned, lack dates or sources. It is tedious to scroll through the Copyright Holder's page for this information.

On the positive side, the book is enticing reading with its many descriptions of exotic customs and its blend of the ancient and the modern. It is written well and concisely. Many of the older books on Christmas customs, now out of print or difficult to find, are admirably updated in this new volume, which can enrich high-school, college, and public library collections. RBB
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Meticulously researched, well-written, and often downright funny, this encyclopedia does justice to its fascinating subject.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Wholly delightful and generally informative.”
Calgary Herald

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
The positive side: This encyclopedia is quite comprehensive, with more than 1,000 entries that cover a wide range of subjects in relatively small space (257 numbered text pages). The subjects span the entire period from the manger to the twentieth century with history, customs, traditions, mythical spirits that bring gifts, holiday symbols, a host of foreign countries, carols, songs, literary works, and items in the popular media such as movies, animated cartoons, and television specials. The book is copiously illustrated. Almost every page includes quality black-and-white pictures and photographs reflecting period content, and there are some sixteen additional pages of full color plates depicting Christmas paintings by eminent artists. Entries discussing foreign countries present respective customs and cuisine, and a separate entry lists phrases for "Merry Christmas" in some 85 foreign languages. Carols and songs in the public domain (copyright has expired) include printed lyrics, and many entries for literary works reproduce considerable passages of prose or poetry. Entries focusing on history, ancient traditions, and foreign countries are by far the strong points of this book.
The negative side: The encyclopedia attempts to cram too many entries into too little space. The result is that many so-called "entries" are reduced to nothing more than brief definitions of terms, objects, or persons. Lyrics to copyrighted songs are absent. With a few exceptions, entries discussing popular media subjects provide scant information beyond the bare essentials of author/lyricist/composer, dates, places, director, or principal actors. Generally lacking are human-interest details or background notes (how or why the story, movie, or song came into existence), or detailed plot descriptions. The most serious deficiencies are the lack of an index and lack of a bibliography, two basic elements requisite in any reputable reference work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A great collection Jan. 9 2001
I had heard about this book from a friend and didn't believe it could be so comprehensive or complete. When I saw it in the local bookstore, I was astonished at the breadth and depth of coverage of Christmas and the many customs which are associated with it from all around the world.
Over Christmas, a family discussion of Christmas activities in cultures not familiar to my own resulted in a look at the appropriate item in the encyclopedia, followed by a virtual cornucopia of additional reading as everyone suggested inquiries and questions, all of which were referenced. Hats off to Dr. Bowler!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read this Christmas Season! Nov. 8 2000
Witty and authoritative, the World Encyclopaedia of Christmas is not only fun for casual reading but it has also served me well as a resourceful reference book. With such a wide array of entries including movies, an exhaustive history of Christmas, important historical events, ethnic traditions and carols, I was unable to find anything about Christmas that wasn't there! This comprehensive book exceeded all my expectations and made this my must read for the Christmas season and beyond. It is definitely going to be a Christmas gift in my family!
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5.0 out of 5 stars What is Boxing Day, anyway? Dec 13 2000
This is a fantastic book for Christmas lovers. Bowler covers a wide range of Christmas customs from around the globe, and includes everything from the words of Christmas carols, poems, and sayings, to Christmas film reviews, stamps, and other things merry that have created the holiday season around Christmas and New Years. This isn't a dry work of academia either, Gerry Bowler's wit shines through in a number of passages. This book is a welcome addition to the world of Christmas and a definite must-have!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Correction to my review of June 11, 2001 June 19 2001
I must correct a typographical error. I stated that there were 227 numbered text pages. There are actually 257.
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