Christmas in the Crosshairs

Two Thousand Years of Denouncing and Defending the World's Most Celebrated Holiday

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Gerry Bowler
  • London, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , October
     336 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


An Anglican priest hands out brass knuckles to his congregation to guard his church from anti-Christmas fanatics. Fascists insist that the real Christmas is the Winter Solstice, while Communists stage atheist musicals outside of churches on Christmas Eve. Activists vandalize shops that set out holiday advertising in October and anti-consumerists sing parody carols in shopping malls. Is there a war on Christmas? As Gerry Bowler demonstrates in Christmas in the Crosshairs, there is and always has been a war, or several wars, on Christmas. 

A global phenomenon adored by billions and a backbone of international trade, Christmas is the biggest single event on the planet. For Christians it is the second-most sacred date on the calendar. But whether one celebrates it or not, it engages billions of people who are caught up in its commercialism, music, sentiment, travel, and frenetic busyness. Since its controversial invention in the Roman Empire, Christmas has struggled with paganism, popular culture, fierce Christian opposition, its abolition in Scotland and New England, and its neglect and near-death in the 1700s, only to be miraculously reinvented in the 1800s. The twentieth century saw it opposed by Bolsheviks, twisted by Hitler, and appropriated by every special interest group in the industrialized world. Lately it has been caught up in the culture wars between the political left and the right in America. From its use in civil rights protests (a boycott on holiday spending in white-owned stores), to appropriations of well-known lyrics (Dancing in a Wiccan Wonderland), to some frankly puzzling performance art pieces (rolling across London while singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas), groups from all walks of life have used the holiday's massive popularity to draw attention to their causes. 

Christmas in the Crosshairs tells the story of the tug-of-war over Christmas, replete with cross-dressing priests, ranting Puritans, and atheist witches. In addition to providing a history of Christmas from the beginning up to the present day, the stories Bowler tells explore the scope of its influence and give us a shocking, and entertaining, look at the tradition we thought we knew so well.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian whose research focus on the intersection of religion and popular culture, especially Christmas. He has taught at a number of universities in western Canada and spent 25 years with the University of Manitoba as a Professor of History.


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