Most helpful critical review
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handy, but could benefit from more depth
on January 25, 2012
The first sections of this book describing the history of holiday and its various traditions were the most interesting parts. It starts to feel like it's merely skimming the surface though, and that problem becomes more prevalent the deeper you get into the book. For instance, a chapter on "Christmas on the Silver Screen" only covers one movie (a very in-depth essay on the history of "It's a Wonderful Life"), then switches to Christmas TV specials, which it covers by giving a one or two sentence description of three randomly selected Christmas-themed programs that aired on TV each Christmas Eve from 1962 to 2006. No analysis, no commentary, no data like what network a show aired on or when it was made. For example, the famous Charlie Brown Christmas special debuted in 1965, but not on Christmas Eve, so this section of the book lists that show under 1999 because that year it aired on some channel on Christmas Eve. I would have loved it if they gave some of the staples (Grinch, Miracle on 34th Street, Rankin/Bass, Elf, etc.) the same treatment they gave "It's a Wonderful Life." The way it came out, I'm not really sure what the point of this list is. Similarly there's a chapter that describes what Christmas was like in each decade starting from 1900 to present, but again the information included seems random and lacks a strong sense of context.
A chapter on non-Christian holiday celebrations during the same season gives a lot of interesting details I'd never heard before about Hanukkah, but then slips back into just thumbnails on Kwanzaa, Diwali, Ramadan, and others. The whole book could have been a fantastic resource if it had applied a more consistent level of thoroughness throughout.
Also, a lot of the book's length is padded with the inclusion of numerous Christmas-related public domain works, such as The Little Match Girl, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, poems and traditional Christmas carols. It's nice to have them all in one bundle, but the initial chapters of the book that delved so deep into the roots of the holiday led me to expect the chapter on "The Stories of Christmas" would equally explore the background of the famous Christmas material rather than just dump the material itself, in its entirety, into the middle of the book.