Christmas Folklore and History

I give talks and respond to media questions about the history and folklore of Christmas. While my own research focuses specifically on Wassail and Twelfth Night traditions, I am happy to help you find the sources that will answer your Christmas questions. Below is a bibliography of resources you might find helpful.

Maria Kennedy Publications / Media Presence

MK as Quoted in Media:

Recommended Bibliography / Sources

This list is not exhaustive! It represents my personal research interests and resources I have found particularly compelling for general audiences, as well as some esoteric books in my personal collections. I update it as I find new sources of interest.

General Christmas + St. Nicolas

Media Articles

“From easily angered gnomes to child-eating giants, European folklore reveals a darker side to Christmas”

“The Surprising History of Christmas Traditions.”

English Heritage. “The History of Father Christmas.”

Books and Journals

Bella, Leslie. The Christmas Imperative: Leisure, Family and Women’s Work. Halifax, N.S.: Fernwood Pub., 1992.

Christensen, Danille Elise. “Celebrating Midwinter: Holiday Foods in the United States.” SOURCETHINK (blog), December 23, 2021.

Deacy, Christopher. Christmas as Religion: Rethinking Santa, the Secular and the Sacred. First edition. UPSO – Oxford University Press E-Books. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Forbes, Bruce David. Christmas: A Candid History. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

Larsen, Timothy. The Oxford Handbook of Christmas. Oxford Handbooks Online. Oxford: University Press, 2020.

Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas. 1st Vintage books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Plaut, Joshua Eli. A Kosher Christmas: ’tis the Season to Be Jewish. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2012.

Miles, Clement A. Christmas Customs and Traditions, Their History and Significance. New York: Dover Publications, 1976.

Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 1997.

Christmas Trees and Greenery

Media Articles

“History of Christmas Trees | National Christmas Tree Association,”

“Noticing Mushrooms All over Your Christmas Decor This Year? Here’s the Story behind the Surprising Holiday Trend.”

“Not Sure When to Take Down Your Christmas Tree? Use the History of This Ritual as a Guide”

“Jonathan’s Mistletoe Diary.”

Books and Journals

Chapman, Arthur Glenn. Christmas Trees for Pleasure and Profit. 3rd ed. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1985.

Snyder, Phillip V. The Christmas Tree Book: The History of the Christmas Tree and Antique Christmas Tree Ornaments. Harmondsworth, Eng. ; Penguin Books, 1977.

African American Customs

Media Articles

Karen. “What Is Pinkster?” Historic Hudson Valley (blog), May 9, 2018.

Books and Journals

Dewulf, Jeroen. “Pinkster: An Atlantic Creole Festival in a Dutch-American Context.” The Journal of American Folklore 126, no. 501 (2013): 245–71.

Customs from the British Isles

Media Articles

English Heritage. “The History of Father Christmas.”

BBC. “BBC Radio 4 – The Untold, Darkie Day: Michael and the Mummers.”

Books and Journals

Chandler, John. A Wessex Nativity: Celebrating Midwinter in Somerset, Dorset & Wiltshire, 2010.

Glassie, Henry. All Silver and No Brass : An Irish Christmas Mumming. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

Halpert, Herbert, and George Morley Storey. Christmas Mumming in Newfoundland; Essays in Anthropology, Folklore, and History. Memorial University Series. Toronto: Published for Memorial University of Newfoundland by University of Toronto Press, 1969.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations Of The Sun. New Ed edition. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wigley, Edward. “Wassail! Reinventing ‘Tradition’ in Contemporary Wassailing Customs in Southern England.” Cultural Geographies 26, no. 3 (July 1, 2019): 379–93.

Customs from Italy

Sciorra, Joseph. “‘Festive Intensification and Place Consciousness in Christmas House Displays.’” In Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City, First edition. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2015.

Sciorra, Joseph. “‘Imagined Places and Fragile Landscapes: Nostalgia and Utopia in Nativity Presepi.’” In Built with Faith: Italian American Imagination and Catholic Material Culture in New York City, First edition. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2015.

Siporin, Steve. The Befana Is Returning The Story of a Tuscan Festival. Book Collections on Project MUSE. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2022.

Customs from the Netherlands

Roelofs, Pieter, Hendrick Avercamp, and Beverly Jackson. Winter Landscape with Skaters: Hendrick Avercamp. Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2013.

Nordic and Scandinavian Customs

Stokker, Kathleen. Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land. St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

Customs from Ukraine

Tkacz, Virlana, and Wanda Phipps. Still the River Flows: Winter Solstice and Christmas Rituals in a Carpathian Village. New York: Yara Arts Group, n.d.

“Still the River Flows.”

Past Speaking Engagements

“Here We Come Wassailing: Christmas Traditions of Visitation.”Invited Talk (virtual): Global Village Museum of Arts and Cultures. Fort Collins, CO. December 14, 2021.

“Wassail: Rituals and Festivals of the Orchard” in Ritual and Festival, Department of American Studies, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Invited by Dr. Patricia Sawin. 2021 (virtual lecture)

Get in touch

If you would like to contact me regarding a media or speaking inquiry, please email: