Although elements of my Christmas could always be titled ‘peculiar’, that isn’t what this post is about.
This is a little book review. Of what is a very peculiar, and indeed little book! Christmas. A Very Peculiar History.
‘Christmas. A Very Peculiar History’ by Fiona Macdonald is a pocket sized, prettily packaged stocking filler essentially. A blue, red and white garland of colour, images of Santa and gilt edged designed, it is a busy looking piece. In fact, it is a history book, documenting every element of Christmas with the story behind it, often strange and sometimes sinister, to compare with the perceived serenity of the event itself.
This factfile is not fully for the doe-eyed Christmas lover, wishing to indulge in a cinnamon and ginger scented fantasy of a magical and fairy filled yuletide dream. It may be more for the pedant at Christmas, one who enjoys the mulled wine and tradition but would not blink at the grittiness that the origins of our Christmas may reveal.
My first impression of this little book was based on purely a visual element and was one of joy. As a lover of curios and old world books, see Aesthetically Irresistible Books for proof of this indulgence), I was enchanted by this little lovelie. An old world cover, vintage festive imagery and cover prints makes this a very festive feast for the eye. This version appears very Christmassy. I thought of all sorts of people who may love to possess such a dinky treasure. Five pages in however and these names in my head began to alter to a completely different set of people. This is not a book for the faint hearted. It is not for the Christmas jumper wearing, Snowball drinking, tinsel loving all-singing, all -dancing number one Chrstmas fan. In fact, it may even even be best suited to the -gulp- Christmas cynic.
Later chapters present more palatable information rather than startling brute truths and returned me to the original expectation that I had held for the piece of non-fiction. Facts and truths of a festive nature. Likely this is because the book followed a chronological format and our past contains much more disturbing details than our recent past. Religion, violence, conflict- all too familiar themes of our human way of life. The book does not shield us from the real origins of Christmas. Yet it is a mind of information and is the result of extremely detailed study and clearly a work of love.
Overall, this book has the imperative ‘pick me up, put me down, pick me up again’ power that a little book of facts should. It taught me a tremendous amount about the Christmas season, a lot of which has managed to ply itself to my brain and which I retold knowingly as anecdote to- no doubt-rolling eyes and thoughts of ‘Know it all’…which is fine. Because I did know it all! I knew why mince pies were traditional and if they did include meat. I knew why Christmas was cancelled in 1644. I can identify the predecessors to our selection boxes- much candied or dried items. I know how the Sugar Plum fairy got her name.
It may be too late to gift this book this season but this is one that will not go out of date. An interesting read for many, a terrifically beautiful piece to peruse through its use of illustration and presentation, this little book will return to my coffee table every Christmas- even if just for decorative purposes! I may not encourage my Santa loving, Nativity acting eight year old niece to read it at night but there is many the person, young and old that would be enchanted by this little treasury of historical quirks.
As a Boolino friend I am occasionally sent books to review. I have recieved no payment, just a free copy of this book in exchange for a frank review. All thoughts and opinions are purely my own.