by Adam Gopnik

“One thing for sure:  Christmas as we understand it—Santa, and the tree and the gifts and the department stores and even the Christmas carol as a distinct form; what might technically be called the whole megillah—is a modern invention, dating back to the long Victorian years, the eighteen-forties to seventies, and saturated with the whole of the era’s fragrant, intoxicating ambiguities.  Just a year ago, I spent week after week—the whole holiday, actually—reading Victorian Christmas literature in a cubicle (no, call it a cubby hole, more Victorianly) in the blessed precincts of the New York Public Library, an institution in need of no change.  I dipped deep into what the ones who thought up the modern Christmas—the secularized, materialist feast—thought they were about.”