THE ORIGINS OF CHRISTMASWritten by Joseph F. Kelly Reviewed By Daniel M. Gurtner
Joseph Kelly, Professor of Religious Studies at John Carroll University, a Catholic and Jesuit university in Cleveland, Ohio (USA), has provided readers with an enjoyable book that is accessible even to the youngest of Christians. It begins (ch. 1, ‘The Birth of Jesus’) by recounting the infancy narratives according to Luke and Matthew, followed by a few bibliographic items for further reading on the star. Chapter 2, ‘Creating the Christmas Story’, profiles additions to canonical gospel infancy narratives found in apocryphal gospels, while in chapter 3, ‘Creating Christmas Day and the Christmas Season’, Kelly chronicles the stories surrounding the date of 25 December, the name ‘Christmas’, and the Liturgical calendar surrounding its development in the early church. Chapter 4, ‘Jesus, Mary, the Magi, and an Obscure Asian Bishop’, discusses the historical developments in Christological controversies pertaining to the Christmas story and interesting traditions concerning the names and identity of the Magi and the enigmatic St Nicholas.
In chapter 5, ‘The Popular Acceptance of Christmas’, Kelly tells the story of the holiday’s popular acceptance as recorded in works of art, relics, liturgies, hymns, and homilies primarily up through the sixth century, though these are interspersed with comments from a modern setting. The author then offers a very concise overview of the history of Christmas to modern times in the Epilogue. An Appendix reproduces the gospel Infancy Narratives, while the list of ‘further Reading’ notes primary and secondary source materials which interested readers may consult. That Kelly thought to include ten photographs and explain any technical terms makes the book all the more enjoyable. Though it could be more useful had the author included references to primary sources where cited in the body of his work, this volume nonetheless serves well to dispel myths, explain legends, and name key figures for any reader interested in the subject.
Daniel M. Gurtner
Daniel M. Gurtner completed his PhD at the University of St. Andrews and has written extensively on the Gospel of Matthew and Second Temple Judaism. He is the author of The Torn Veil: Matthew’s Exposition of the Death of Jesus and co-editor of the award-winning T&T Clark Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism.