Christmas: an exhibition of material from the Rare Book Collection. Monash University Library, 8 December - 31 January 1994


Christmas: an exhibition of material from the Rare Book Collection. Monash University Library, 8 December - 31 January 1994



The exhibition was held in the Rare Books Exhibition space, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University from 8 December 1993 - 31 January 1994. There are few assertions about the nature, significance and history of Christmas which will pass uncontested. Is Christmas primarily a religious festival? If so, where do its rituals come from? Has Western paganism overcome an Eastern cult, or has a spirit from the East tamed and softened primitive European traditions? Is Christmas a religious occasion at all for most people? Is it not rather their best chance in the year to enjoy themselves? Relentless advertizing, Christmas shopping beginning in August, and office parties: are they offences against the true meaning of Christmas or its natural manifestations? Even the greatest enthusiasts for Christmas have probably been tempted to echo Scrooge and exclaim "Humbug!" at some aspects of Christmas. But which aspects are humbug and which are genuine? Because the origins of Christmas are unclear, it is impossible to answer these questions conclusively. It makes sense to say that Jesus was born on Christmas Day, but on what day of the year was the first Christmas Day? It seems certain that it was not December 25th, and that the Church, probably in the fourth century A.D. chose that date simply because that had been the time of a pagan festival. Many pre-Christian features survived, to become an important part of Christmas in mediaeval times. Consequently, when a stricter notion of Christmas prevailed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was easy for reformers to dismiss revelry and mirth together with holly, mistletoe and the yule log as superstitious, idolatrous and irreverent. But although for a short while in some places Christmas lay under a ban, it proved impossible to suppress for long the impulse to make merry, whether for religious or secular reasons, at the time of the winter solstice. Gradually during the eighteenth century, then rapidly from the 1840s, Christmas became the major festival of the year in Western Society, and ultimately the most widely observed in the world, flourishing regardless of local climate and culture. This exhibition tries to show the changing faces of Christmas in the English-speaking world since printing began, and to suggest some of the conflicts and tensions which still underlie the "festive season". Almost every item on display, whether it be a card, a carol or a cracker-motto, a sermon, a story or a speech, is an injunction to behave in a manner appropriate to the day. Usually that manner involves eating and drinking, giving and receiving. Often it includes games and music. Sometimes all these are joined to worship. Universally, though, the Christmas spirit is understood to show itself in the reconciliation of differences: between the individual and the community; within the family; and across the nations. Many of the writers are keen to convey the idea that high and low, black and white, rich and poor, believer and non-believer alike become as one at this season. For all these, Christmas serves as a model of a better and richer way of living.








Text - Monash University Library CC-BY 4.0. Images - Copyright Not Evaluated

Download File(s)


Overell, Richard et al., “Christmas: an exhibition of material from the Rare Book Collection. Monash University Library, 8 December - 31 January 1994,” Monash Collections Online, accessed June 13, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.