Tis the season to decorate the tree, hang the stockings, and perform family Christmas traditions. Jospeh Kelly, John Carroll professor with a specialization in the history of Christianity, focuses on the religious traditions of Christmas in his new book “The Feast of Christmas.”
The 136-page book is a survey, illustrating specific examples against the historical backdrop of the time, which traces the celebration from its origin to today.
“The Feast of Christmas” is Kelly’s third Christmas book (“The Origins of Christmas,” “The Birth of Jesus According to the Gospels”). While readers might expect a thorough investigation into the birth of Jesus, the book documents the actual celebration of Christmas, as the title suggests.
Kelly explains what is known about the birth of Jesus, though.
“The gospels indicate a humble birth to a carpenter and his teenage wife, so we can be sure of that. It certainly took place in Bethlehem. Historians can say these things but other gospel elements, such as the virginal conception, are matters of faith,” Kelly said.
Stories of Jesus’s birth are only included in two of the Gospels.
“Actually Jesus’ birth is important as a prelude to the gospels of Matthew and Luke who, like Mark and John, really focus on Jesus’ public career, death and resurrection,” Kelly said.
Early Christians did not celebrate Christmas until the fourth century, and from there the struggle to balance the “two Christmases” (secular and religious) continues today.
The celebration of Christmas takes dramatic turns through the Middle Ages latching on to its current date and the pagan feast Yule, to the religious Christmas being challenged in the sixth century being banned by Puritans. The book finishes up with documenting the religious Christmas not only existing in consumerist society, but flourishing in it.
Kelly credits the book’s focus and helpfulness to his “History of Christmas” students at JCU in the preface of the book.
“Over the years my students have asked me many good questions that have sharpened not only my understanding of the subject, but also of the kinds of topics that would interest the general reader. If you find this book helpful, my students can take much of the credit.” Kelly wrote in his preface.
Junior Amanda Chu, currently enrolled in Kelly’s class, said Kelly has reminded her of what Christmas is truly about.
“We celebrate Christmas every year and celebrate the traditions, but many people do not know the origins. Nowadays people just celebrate Christmas for the gifts rather than the religious aspect, and they do not know how all the songs and traditions correlate to Jesus and his birth,” Chu said.
Kelly says his interest of Christmas goes back like a lot of us, from childhood. “I like Christmas very much, ever since I was a child. My books on Christmas derive from that interest,” Kelly said.
“The Feast of Christmas” is currently available in the JCU bookstore, and signed copies from Kelly also appear on the shelves.