If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Four Alternative Books for Christmas

If Christmas has become too crassly commercial or sappily sentimental for you, I have several books to recommend that will sober up your Christmas spirit the egg nog of a churchified and commercialized Christmas.

The first book is entitled The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Borg and Crossan are premier New Testament scholars. They have also collaborated on a book about the end of Jesus' life----The Last Week. Their forte is examining the socio-political context of the birth narratives of Jesus in Matthew and Luke and painstakingly placing the texts in their context. The result is a clear-eyed presentation of the Christmas stories which point us to a new world of justice and peace. This is a more popular read.

The second book, The Liberation of Christmas, is one of my favorite Christmas books written by one of my favorite biblical scholars, Richard A. Horsley. Like Borg and Crossan, Horsley places the infancy narratives in their socio-political context, but with much greater historical detail. The reader will soon see how these texts present Jesus as an alternative to the Roman Caesar, who was depicted as the "savior of the world." The ruthlessness of King Herod is heightened by historical background. We learn more about the peasant society, women's roles, popular resistance to Rome, Mary's song of liberation and social transformation, and modern analogies to these narratives in their socio-political contexts. This is a more scholarly presentation, but worth the effort.

Another book, edited by Richard Horsley and James Tracy, is Christmas Unwrapped: Consumerism, Christ, and Culture. The essays included in this book cover the history of Christmas in the U.S., the culture of Christmas, social, historical, and political contexts of the biblical birth narratives, and theoretical and theological relections on Christmas. This easy read book will get you to re-examine the cosumerist wrappings of this holiday of excess.

The last book I would recommend about Christmas was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The book is The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nussbaum. This study is an amazingly detailed historical analysis of the emergence, or should I say "invention," of Christmas. He tells the story of Christmas once celebrated as a kind of scandalous, bawdy type of Mardi Gras to its domestication and commercialization by a group of New England businessmen. It's a tale filled with intriguing history and origins of cultural icons and practices like Santa Claus and wassailing across racial lines. You will never look at Christmas the same way again.

So, if your egg nog notions of Christmas have become sickeningly sweet and you can't stand listening to Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" another time, put on your pajamas, light a fire, get one of these books to read, and get your hair singed (from the books, not the fire).

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