How Christmas evolved from raucous carnival to domestic holiday

时间:2017-12-29 单词数:5800

双语 中文 英文




THERE were no neatly wrapped presents. Nor were there tinselled trees or Santa Claus. Christmas in preindustrial Europe and America looked very different from today’s iteration. Drunks, cross-dressers and rowdy carollers roamed the streets. The tavern, rather than the home or the church, was the place to celebrate. “Men dishonour Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas, than in all the twelve months besides,”—so despaired Hugh Latimer, chaplain to King Edward VI, in the mid-1500s. Some 200 years later, across the Atlantic, a Puritan minister decried the “lewd gaming” and “rude revelling” of Christmastime in the colonies. Those concerns seem irrelevant now. By the end of the 19th century, a rambunctious, freewheeling holiday had turned into the peaceable, family-centred one we know today. How?

工业化前的欧洲和美国的圣诞节和今天的圣诞节大不相同——没有包装整齐的礼物,没有嵌金银丝的圣诞树,也没有圣诞老人。酒鬼、伪娘和吵闹的人群在街上游荡。人们在小酒馆,而不是在家里或教堂庆祝节日。“在圣诞节的十二天里,人们对基督做出的不敬行为比过去的一年中做的还多。” 十六世纪中叶,爱德华六世的牧师休拉蒂默对此情此景绝望地感慨道。200多年后,在大西洋彼岸,一位清教徒牧师在殖民地谴责圣诞节为“猥亵游戏”和“无礼的狂欢”。当时的这些担忧与当下似乎毫不相干了。19世纪末,一个曾喧嚣吵杂、自由放纵的节日变成了我们今天所熟知的其乐融融、以家庭为中心的节日。这是怎么回事呢?

In early modern Europe, between about 1500 and 1800, the Christmas season meant a lull in agricultural labour and a chance to indulge. The harvest had been gathered and the animals slaughtered (the cold weather meant they would not spoil). The celebration involved heavy eating, drinking and wassailing, in which peasants would arrive at the houses of the neighbouring gentry and demand to be fed. One drinking song captured the mood: “And if you don’t open up your door, / We will lay you flat upon the floor.” Mostly this was tolerated in good humour—a kind of ritualised disorder, when the social hierarchy was temporarily inverted. Some were less tolerant. In colonial Massachusetts, between 1659 and 1681, Puritans banned Christmas. They expunged the day from their almanacs, and offending revellers risked a five-shilling fine. The ban did not last, so efforts to tame the holiday picked up instead. Moderation was advised. One almanac-writer cautioned in 1761 that “The temperate man enjoys the most delight, / For riot dulls and palls the appetite.” Still, Christmas was a public ritual, enacted in the tavern or street and often fuelled by alcohol.


That soon changed. Cities had expanded at the turn of the 19th century to absorb the growing number of factory workers. Vagrancy and urban poverty were by now common. Rowdiness at Christmas could turn violent, with bands of drunken men roaming the streets. It’s little surprise that members of the upper classes saw a threat in the festivity. In his study of the holiday, Stephen Nissenbaum, a historian, credits a group of patrician writers and editorialists in America with recasting it as a domestic event. They refashioned European traditions, like Christmas trees from Germany and Christmas boxes from England, in which the wealthy would present cash or leftovers to their servants. St Nicholas, or Santa Claus, whose December name day coincided with the Christmas season, became the holiday’s mascot. Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “A Visit from St Nicholas”, first publised in 1823, helped popularise his image. In it, a jolly Santa descends via reindeer-pulled sleigh to surprise children with presents on Christmas Eve. Newspapers also played their part. “Let all avoid taverns and grog shops for a few days,” advised the New York Herald in 1839. Better to focus on “the domestic hearth, the virtuous wife, the innocent, smiling, merry-hearted children.”


It was a triumph of middle-class values, and a coup for shop-owners. “Christmas is the merchant’s harvest time,” one industry magazine enthused in 1908. “It is up to him to garner in as big a crop of dollars as he can.” Soon this new Christmas would become a target of criticism in its own right: as commercialised and superficial. Nevertheless it lives on.