Thirty years after the first recorded Christmas, in the fourth century, the Pope was already warning that too many people were spending the day not in worship, but dancing and eating to excess. By 1616, the playwright Ben Jonson was nostalgically recalling the Christmas of the old days, certain that they had been better then.
Food, drink and nostalgia for Christmases past seem to be almost as old as the holiday itself, far more central to the story of Christmas than religious worship. Many other aspects of the celebrations are newer than we might realise - wrapping-paper was unknown before the twentieth century.
Other things, however, have been around for a very long time. The first known Christmas 'loo book', The Boghouse Miscellany, ‘printed on excellent soft paper’, was advertised as early as the 1760s; while in 1805, as they trekked from Missouri to Oregon, the American explorers Lewis and Clark exchanged presents of underwear and socks.
Christmas has been all things to all people: a religious festival, a family celebration, a period of eating and drinking. In Christmas: A Biography, acclaimed social historian and best-selling author Judith Flanders casts a sharp and revealing eye on the myths, legends and history of the season, from the origins of the holiday in the Roman empire to the emergence of Christmas trees in central Europe, to what might be the first appearance of Santa Claus – in Switzerland! – to draw a picture of the season as it has never been seen before.