“Introduction: John Pintard’s Holiday Scare” (p. 49)
This section recounts Pintard’s experience with how the Christmas holiday was changing. In 1820, Pintard had celebrated Christmas the way he always had, with a modest day of tradition, family, food, etc. Although he was a wealthy merchant, he chose to keep the holiday simple and respectful, as it had always been. However, that night, as he slept in his upscale apartment, he was roused by what he thought was an intruder. Although he was mistaken, his night would continue to be restless, as the city was alive with a party. That is, revelers drank and partied into the night, keeping Pintard and others like him awake. This section demonstrates that a new way of celebrating Christmas was emerging, which was not compatible with the old (Nissenbaum, 1996).

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“Misrule and Capitalism in Early Nineteenth-Century New York” (50-55)
This chapter explains that the origins of the modern celebration of Christmas begins in the early 19th century and is intrinsically bound to class warfare. That is, at the end of the 18th century, Christmas was barely spoken about and celebrate quietly. However, with the rise of factories and capitalism the wealth disparity began to grow and so did problems with seasonal labor. The income disparity grew sharply, as factory owners controlled most of the wealth, creating a large and impoverished lower class. Also, many factories closed during the winter, as they were water powered. Therefore, the Christmas season became filled with the disgruntled lower classes, many of whom and just been laid off for the season. This caused Christmas celebrations to become a way to let off steam and even to take out their aggression against the upper classes. Because of this, Christmas celebrations became alcohol fueled parties, to the point that the rich were concerned about the smooth functioning of society (Nissenbaum, 1996).

“Knickerbocker Holiday” (55-65)
This section details how the upper classes pushed back against the lower classes, in that the poor’s style of celebration dominated the Christmas season. With the rise of disorderly celebrations, Pintard and others that supported him, began looking for ways to restore a sense of tradition and respect for the holiday. Therefore, Pintard helped to reintroduce the Dutch character Saint Nicholas, along with increased effort to popularize his day of celebration, December 6th. This was meant to instill the ideas of fealty, piety, sobriety, etc., as Amsterdam was depicted as a quaint, old-world place. With the help of author’s like Washington Irving, this caught on and continues to be popular. However, according to modern researchers, this image of Santa Claus and the old-world was largely invented by the Knickerbockers, a powerful, political faction in New York (Nissenbaum, 1996).

“Clement Clark Moore, Country Gentleman” (65-71)
This section discusses the influential writer and member of the wealthy class, Clement Clark Moore. He is best known for writing “The Night Before Christmas,” a Christmas story that is still popular today. He is also the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Moore has also been noted as a member of the Knickerbockers, or at least shared their mindset, which influenced the subtle messages of his books. His life depicts a man that was largely against the rise of the lower classes. That is, as a wealthy landowner in what is now Chelsea in New York City, he had a lot of his land taken from him by the city so that it could expand. In fact, he made comments in which he expressed concern for the survival of the upper classes due to the rise of the lower classes (Nissenbaum, 1996).

“From Saint Nicholas to Santa Clause” (71-76)
This section talks about how the modern image of Santa Claus began to emerge. Many of the ideas in the story of Santa Claus come from previous works, namely those of Pintard and Irving. The work that they produced is responsible for turning the old-world character of St. Nicholas into the modern depiction of Santa Claus. It involves ideas like bringing presents on Christmas Eve, riding in a sleigh, using reindeer, etc. However, it still held old world ideas, such as references to Judgement Day (Nissenbaum, 1996).

“From ‘The Day of Doom’ to ‘The Night Before Christmas’” (76-78)
Using the work of Pintard and Irving, Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” created the modern image of Santa Claus that still is used today. However, Moore took out ideas like Judgement Day and punishment, leaving behind only the happy aspects of the holiday. In fact, this work parallels “The Day of Doom,” which was a poem about Judgement Day. While the parallel might be a coincidence, it likely is not, as it seems to make a deliberate point. That is, Moore has removed fear and judgement from Christmas and reimagined Santa Claus as a pauper instead of as a bishop-like character (Nissenbaum, 1996).

“The Stump of a Pipe” (78-87)
This depiction of Santa Claus was meant to speak to the upper classes. First of all, it addressed their fears of the poor sneaking into their houses at night and their guilt of wanting to take care of the poor. That is, Santa, now looking like a poor person, wanted nothing from the rich and posed no threat to them. This resulted in a shared harmony between the classes (Nissenbaum, 1996).

“Back to the Future” (87-89)
Overall, Christmas was invented by the rich of New York as a means of class warfare, in that they wanted social order and to keep the peace. Knickerbockers like Pintard and Irving tried various methods to do this, but Moore found the best way. That is, he created an image of Santa Claus that kept society together by not threatening the rich and making them feel better about their guilt of having more than the poor (Nissenbaum, 1996).

  • Nissenbaum, S. (1996). The Battle for Christmas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.