University of Portsmouth's History Blog

A Christmas reading list

In this festive-themed blog, Dr Katy Gibbons, Senior Lecturer in History, recommends a few texts that feature a link to Christmas. Katy specialises in the religious and cultural history of 16th century England and Europe, and teaches amongst other units, a Special Subject ‘Conflict, Conspiracy, Consensus? Religious Identities in the Reign of Elizabeth I’.

With Christmas fast approaching, no doubt many historians are adding reading material to their Christmas lists! For some historians, though, Christmas is the focus of the research they carry out – and there is a wealth of academic history that considers the changing significance of this festival over many centuries. So, for our blog readers, here are our pick of history-writing about Christmas, each of which is connected to the research and teaching activity of History at Portsmouth. All of these are available for our current students via the University Library – so, happy Christmas, and happy reading!

1). Given the central importance of Christmas to the Christian Calendar, what happened when England’s Christian population was divided by the Reformation? Did Protestants and Catholics begin to find separate ways in which to mark Christmas? Here Phebe Jensen considers festivity and Christmas celebrations amongst Catholic families in Protestant Britain:


2). What did Christmas-lovers do in 17th century England, when the celebration and ‘merriment’ of Christmas was officially outlawed by the authorities in the Commonwealth period? How ‘popular’ a move was it, and did people resist or ignore these demands? Here Christmas is part of Bernard Capp’s wider consideration of Puritan attempts to regulate all kinds of social behaviour:


3). Christmas as we think of it today is often seen to be a Victorian ‘invention’. Here Neil Armstrong considers one aspect of the Victorian Christmas – the practice of sending Christmas greetings cards:


4). Perhaps one of the most famous Christmas scenes relating to the global conflicts of the 20th century is that of the Christmas truce on the Western Front.  Revisiting this is particularly relevant given the 2018 centenary of the end of the First World War. Here Terri Blom Crockers offers a challenge to older interpretations of what the truce meant:


5). And, finally, Christmas is a time when much TV (and films) are watched! It also sparks the production of Christmas-themed material. Some of this has spooky content, such as the adaptations of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Here Derek Johnston considers the significance of the Christmas Ghost Story in a number of different formats and contexts:


And before you settle down to watch that festive film, have a read about the ways in which Christmas has been rendered on film in this edited collection from Mark Connelly:




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