Brain Pickings

The Christmas Truce of 1914: A Heartening Story of Humanity in the Middle of War

By:

In December of 1914, a series of grassroots, unofficial ceasefires took hold of the Western Front in the heat of WWI. On Christmas, British and German soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and sing songs across the trenches, some even walked over to their opponents bearing gifts. The incident became one of the most heart-warming displays of humanity in the history of human conflict and was dubbed the Christmas Truce.

This lovely short film captures the story and spirit of this symbolic moment of peace, grace and humility amidst one of modernity’s most violent and disgraceful events.

Complement with Eleanor Roosevelt’s little-known children’s book about Christmas and hope amid war.

HT @vcmcguire

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas

By:

What Victorian anxieties have to do with Coke, candy canes and mythbusting the Bible.

How did a holiday that began in pagan Rome become the centerpiece of the Christian tradition and even a secular global celebration of consumerism across faiths? In Christmas Unwrapped: The History of Christmas, a fascinating 1997 History Channel documentary, historian Harry Smith traces the origins of Christmas and how many of the relative newcomer traditions like candy canes and the Christmas tree came to be. From how cartoonist Thomas Nast defined the look of Santa Claus to how Coca Cola subsequently appropriated it to the profound socioanthropological learnings from Dickens’ classic Christmas Carol, the documentary reveals the rich and surprising history of a holiday that has become a pillar of the modern calendar.

Christmas Unwrapped is available on YouTube in five parts or, for the quality aficionados, as a full-length DVD film from the A&E archives.

The church knew it could not outlaw the pagan traditions of Christmas, so it set out to adopt them. The evergreens traditionally brought inside were soon decorated with apples, symbolizing the Garden of Eden. These apples would eventually become Christmas ornaments.”

The documentary features commentary from renowned historians Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas and Penne L. Restad, who penned Christmas in America: A History.

If the shepherds are out in the fields, watching their flock by night, we’re not talking about one of the cold spells in the heart of winter.”

The film also dives into historical scholarship to debunk some fundamental premises of Christmas: For instance, a closer look of the Christian scriptures reveals Christ was likely born in the spring, not in December.

[Dickens’] Christmas Carol showed the Victorians what could be the use and the reading of Christmas in a society which was quite pleased with itself in a way but which, nevertheless, had fears about inequality, about materialism, about, perhaps, too rapid change.”

Certainly today, most of the churches revel in the celebrations as completely as do the corporate malls. That’s not a bad thing — it actually goes back to the sources of this kind of holiday, where we recognize that people have deep needs at this time of year to connect with that which is very important, but also to celebrate.”

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Merry, Merry: To Be Disposed of Without Reserve

By:

It’s (almost) Christmas and we wanted to wish you a wonderful holiday with this lovely vintage seasonal artwork from 1882, courtesy of the The National Archives UK.

So do as the man says and have yourself said varied assortment of:

Christmas Wishes, Happiness, Joys, Comfort, Good Fellowship, Freedom from all sorrow, care and pain, also many choice New Year’s Wishes, including Prosperity, Health, Happiness, and all the Blessings on eaath.”

(No spellcheck in 1882, apparently.)

A tangential but important note: This image is one of many fantastic archival photographs available on Flickr Commons — a free and open archive of images from some of the world’s leading cultural institutions, made possible largely thanks to the open-copyright culture championed by Creative Commons over the past decade. CC is a nonprofit, so please consider giving them a well-deserved holiday gift in the form of a donation — their work is the single most important enabler of remix culture today.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

James Burke’s Connections: A BBC History of Innovation

By:

What the sociology of the Industrial Revolution has to do with combinatorial creativity.

In 1978, BBC aired a 10-part series entitled Connections, in which science historian James Burke made a compelling case for what’s essentially our founding philosophy: That ideas and innovation don’t occur in isolation, and that creativity is a combinatorial force. (Something more recently echoed by Paula Scher, Nina Paley and Steven Johnson.) True to the program’s subtitle, An Alternative View of Change, Burke debunks the myth of historical progress as a linear force and instead explores the interplay and interconnectedness of events and motives as the origin of modernity’s gestalt.

It’s about the things that surround you in the modern world and, just because they’re there, shape the way you think and behave; and why they exist in the form they do; and who — or what — was responsible for them existing at all.”

The entire Connections series is now available for free online, including the two sequels to the original 1978 program — Connections² (1994) and Connections³ (1997).

For a higher-quality experience, each of the three parts is available as a 5-disc box set, all of which we’ve promptly wishlisted.

The series was also adapted in Burke’s excellent 1995 book Connections, a fascinating 320-page journey into the history of innovation.

via MetaFilter

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.