Sunday, November 25, 2018

Stephen Nissenbaum on The Battle For Christmas

Here's a holiday gem via Mt. Mansfield Community TV and the Internet Archive:
"A presentation by Stephen Nissenbaum sponsored by the Underhill Historical Society at the Deborah Rawson Memorial Library on 12-7-2016."

At 41:10:
Now if I can get back quickly to the poem "The Night Before Christmas": it is, in a very strange way, about a household invasion. I mean, because this guy comes in uninvited. He's doing in fact exactly what Wassailers would threaten to do. Coming uninvited into your house.

And if you think about the way the poem is structured, the whole first part of it is about the narrator—the narrator’s surprise at being awakened out of bed—lots of noise, lots of bright lights. In this reading of the poem the key line is that when St. Nicholas finally appears
A wink of his eye and a [twist] of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread….
That whole first part of the poem is about the fear, the anxiety the narrator seems to have. And what he learns, and this is the brilliance of the poem, and really of the new ritual, is that this household invader is coming to give rather than to take. Moore wrote this I think as part of this attempt to transform the whole set of cultural rituals in ways that both kept the poor out and retained most of the structure of the older rituals.
As well known in these parts Professor Nissenbaum is the distinguished author of
and online, the great essay at Common-Place

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