EXCELLENT 4-in-ONE DVD SET
N. Thomas | 12/15/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The History Channel has compiled this new DVD from four previously-aired documentaries relevant to Christmas. The first is Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas, which was originally released in 1997. It traces the tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 to the fourth century and how various cultures have developed unique ways in honoring the holiday. England's traditions around Yuletide became more and more raucuous and profane with every century between the early Middle Ages and the inception of the Industrial Revolution; one of the commentators states a contemporary observer would mistake British Christmas rites of these years for our Halloween or Mardi Gras. Debauchery, dipsomania, and depravity overruled any sense of divinity or devotion. Dear oh dear...
When the Puritan separatists established themselves in the New World, they outlawed Christmas entirely--as did Oliver Cromwell in England in the years following their exodus to America. Another historian on the program muses that one of the reasons for the Restoration of the Monarchy with the enthronement of King Charles II in 1649 was that the English missed their traditional Christmas revelries, which had been brutally suppressed by the Protectorate.
Due to its Pilgrim heritage, the United States would continue to largely ignore Christmas altogether. Congress even sat in session every 25th of December from 1789 through 1856. It was not until immigrants from other parts of Europe--Germany in particular, and, later, from southern and eastern regions--began arriving in large numbers starting in the mid-19th century that Christmas observances truly took root in America.
History Channel's Biography presents the life stories of famous people, and in 2003 it focused on the most recognizable ambassador of the Christmas season: Santa Claus. From the real-life St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey; he died in 346), a patron of small children, came the modern-day elf. St. Nicholas has historically been significant during the Christmas holiday because his feast is kept on December 6. As a favorite help-mate of sailors, he found fervent fidelity among the Dutch, whose name for him--Sinter Klaus--was the forerunner of the English "Santa Claus". Another alias, Kris Kringle, comes from a German moniker--Christkindl--an idea of Martin Luther's, a patriarch of the Protestant Reformation. Luther taught that the Christ Child (Christkindl in German) was the bringer of children's Christmas gifts rather than St. Nicholas, whose Roman Catholic overtones he wished to dispel from his new church.
Descriptions of Claus varied wildly (I particularly enjoyed the sketch of a Santa looking like an inebriated vagrant being drawn in a sled...by a huge turkey...) until Clement Clarke Moore's poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas", appeared in a New York newspaper in 1823. Most of us would recognize the most famous Christmas poem of all time by it's first line: " 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house", etc. His appearance as jolly, portly, and merry set the tone for his personality; Moore also both introduced and named Santa's legendary flying reindeer. The clergyman also founded Santa's modus operandi for entering domiciles: down the chimney.
Weird U.S. is another History Channel program, with hosts Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman roving across America in search of odd and bizarre historical tidbits, folklore, and traditions.
"It's A Wonderful Time to Be Weird" (aired in 2005) focuses on sundry off-kilter Christmas activities seen across the land. They visit NORAD (the national aerospace defense system) in Denver, Colorado, where Santa's celestial progress is monitored and reported annually. The federal agency's place in the national Xmas schema dates to the mid 1950s. Denver-area children began calling a local telephone number advertised as a direct line to Santa Claus, but due to a misprint, the newspaper had advertised NORAD's emergency line instead. The staff, delighted to be given the opportunity to play Father Christmas' go-between with the youngsters, have charted his global positions every year since, and now incorporate it into their official website on Christmas Eve.
Mark and Mark also embark on a pilgrimage to Minnesota to explore the traditional Yuletide dish of lutefisk among Norwegian Americans. Translated literally, the dish means "lye fish"--truth in advertising, as the jellied end product is indeed whitefish treated with the harsh chemical (a key ingredient in drain cleaners--good heavens!). Humorist Garrison Keillor, a native Minnesotan, recalls this pungent dish in an excerpt from his famous Lake Wobegon Days:
"Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, 'Just have a little.' Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot."
Their peregrinations take a local turn when the duo interviews Pastor Harry Walther, a radio personality and minister from Media, a suburb of Philadelphia. Pastor Harry enthusiastically decries the very mention of Santa Claus in any manner, claiming he is an incarnation of evil (and yes, he is in earnest, although I found him and his lunatic-fringe creed impossible to take seriously). He even sells burnable effigy Santa dolls on his website, encouraging people to light poor Santa's likeness aflame in revolt against "the Satanic lie of Santa" (and I'm quoting him directly!). Mark and Mark react with great indignation and amusement upon leaving Harry and his Santa-driven tirades behind them.
The final selection, Christmas Tech, checks out the nuts-and-bolts backstories to some of the season's outward manifestations. It explains how the massive evergreen found each year in Rockefeller Center is selected, acquired, moved, and erected. The much-touted street-level windows of the great Macy's Department Store of Manhattan are graphically described, from idea conception to final implementation. And the processes used to create such ordinary Christmas festoons as tree lights, glass ornaments, and fruitcake (I know--most people recoil when faced with the prospect of this traditional Yuletide confection, but I happily anticipate nibbling on some every December) are exhaustively researched.
All in all a very thorough, entertaining, and erudite (the Marks from Weird U.S. even visit a Columbia University Professor of Physics, who calculates how Santa Claus gets around the world in time to deliver hundreds of millions of Christmas treats--a segment I walked out of the room during because I break out in a rash if exposed to anything mathematical...) treatment of all things Yule, and one I think most would enjoy.
The HISTORY CHANNEL"s "The HISTORY of CHRISTMAS" is wonderfu
forrie lowell | 11/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This History Channel DVD provides us with over 200 minutes of Christmas History.
This 4 part DVD presentation takes us on enchanting journey through the Christmas Holiday to include:
Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas - How the world celebrate December 25th. From the birth of Christ to how we arrived at todays Christmas Traditions.
Santa Claus - How the legend of Saint Nicholas became todays Santa Claus with his long and interesting journey explained.
It's a Wonderful Time to be Weird - Explanation on the most unusual, wacky and weird practices/traditions that happens at Christmas time.
and finally Christmas Tech - How todays technology affects Christmas visual presentations along with other forms are expressed.
This DVD is full of some very interesting information, traditions and practices.
I love the holidays so I love as much information about our origins, practices, traditions and trivia as possible. If you want a new twist, a validation and history this is your DVD.
More than I expected
Thecountryfashionista | Sticks, PA | 10/23/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When i looked this DVD up, I thought it would only be the Christmas Unwrapped segment from the History Channel. I was pleasantly surprised to find 4 more segments from History Channel regarding Christmas on this dvd. All making for a viewing experience that lasted the better part of almost 2 hours. I especially enjoyed Christmas Tech, basically a whole show dedicated to detailing how anything having to do with Christmas (ex: decorations, lights, displays) are made. I was captured by this episode. it was great. This whole dvd is totally worth the small price. It is a great deal and a perfect buy for any History Channel fan."