Hasn't Christmas gone downhill and got hopelessly vulgar? Wasn't there a time when it was a celebration of real values? In a light hearted survey, we review some wonderful and some gloriously awful historic and modern Christmas imagery to explore the extent to which that's true. It turns out that our traditional notions about Christmas are a much more recent invention than we might think, but no question, our modern variety is often in downright poor taste. But just what makes it so tacky?David studied at Oxford and from 1968-1982 worked at the Nottingham Castle Museum. From 1982-1998 he was a lecturer in Museum Studies and Art History at The University of Manchester. He has written articles and books for publication and has extensive lecturing experience.
In an amusing lecture, David Phillips gave a history of Christmas symbols which have unfortunately deteriorated into kitsch or worse. The audience was relieved to hear that southern Spain has escaped the flood of vulgar images prevalent in the UK and USA.
The traditional images include the Madonna and Child of Botticelli, the Manger Scene by Giotto and the Census at Bethlehem by Bruegel. The serious change in emphasis began in the 19th century with Charles Dickens' Christmas Books, the northern European Christmas tree and gifts shown in a series of family portraits over 35 years in the early 20th century, the sending of printed Christmas cards in lieu of personal Christmas letters, and Clement Moore's poem of 1823 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, adding reindeer and a rotund, red-clad St. Nicholas.
In 1931, the downhill slide began with the commercialization of Santa Claus by Coca Cola. Parts of Santa's costume have been worn by Jack Benny on a record cover, by a bevy of scantily clad girls and by a toy penguin. Clearly artistic good taste has been sacrificed to commercialism. Social good taste also has been violated by trivializing the emotionally charged, such as, an image of Christ on a motorbike. Fortunately, the pre-commercialization Christmas images are still very much in existence.