A Very Not-So-Merry Christmas: How Protestantism Nearly Killed St. Nick

Relics and indulgences weren’t the only casualties of the Reformation. So was Christmas. Christmas was an important feast and saint day in the centuries leading up to the Reformation. Its saint, Nicholas, the bishop of Myra in the early fourth century, loomed large in the Middle Age imagination. In fact, according to Gerry Bowler, Nicholas [Read More…]

Adventures in Parenting as a Historian: The American Girl Books

On seeing history through the eyes of a seven year old, as she reads American Girl books for the first time. [Read more…]

The Most Influential Theologian You’ve Never Heard of

Who is Josef Kleutgen (1811-1883)?  The name is not a household name, except in my household!  I’ve recently completed a book manuscript—The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Döllinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age—and Kleutgen figures quite prominently in it.  He was arguably the ablest student of Thomas Aquinas in the [Read More…]

Because Xmas really is Xpian…

This is from my Anxious Bench archives. I originally posted it December 2, 2015. But it seems still relevant and useful, so enjoy it for Xmas 2016 too. I literally stumbled across St. Bride’s church in London this summer. Walking down Fleet Street toward St. Paul’s Cathedral, I was considering eating at Ye Olde Chesire [Read More…]

That REALLY Old Time Religion

Over the past few months, I have posted quite a few items on the subject of possible pagan survivals into medieval and even modern societies, as indeed has my Baylor colleague Beth Barr. I stand by everything I have written in those pieces – but I really have some questions that remain open. They are [Read More…]

Dispelling Darkness: A Christian Paradox

Tis the season. Christmas music is everywhere. I’m not a complete Grinch when it comes to Christmas music, but really… “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”? So much wrong with this… I do sing Rudolf and Frosty with my kids, and I actually enjoy listening to my daughter pound out carol after carol from her beginning piano [Read More…]

The Peace of Christmas during the Pain of Life

In the far west of England, almost to Wales,  the medieval spire of St. Alkmund’s parish church reaches high above the old city of Shrewsbury. One “vane” of A.E. Housman’s immortal line: “High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam islanded in Severn stream.” Although a modern town of 72,000, Shrewsbury still looks very medieval. More than [Read More…]

A Very Nazi Christmas

Under National Socialism, Christmas in Germany featured a mix of de-Christianized traditions, neopagan rituals, and gendered stereotypes. [Read more…]

Mel Brooks and Teaching European History

I dearly love Mel Brooks as a comedian, but I do have some quarrels with him as a historian. In explaining that remark, I’ll return to the point I made recently about teaching European history to Americans, and some of the basic and quite counter-intuitive ideas you need to get across at a very early [Read More…]

The Problems of Writing Biography (Part 3 – Evidence and Imagination)

Why historians and biographers must often tell stories imaginatively, on the basis of relatively little evidence. [Read more…]