The manger or Macy's? Americans might well wonder which is the real shrine of Christmas. Each year we take part in a mix of churchgoing, shopping, and family gatherings, often wondering whether the season has been commercialized beyond repair. But as Penne Restad demonstrated, Christmas hasalways been an ambiguous combination of solemnity and frenzy. This book brims with insight and colorful detail. Unwrapping the hidden messages in such time-honored traditions as the Christmas tree, gift-giving, and family dinners, Restad brilliantly reveals how the holiday has evolved into an essential and inescapable, presence in contemporary culture. She starts with colonial times, when New England's Puritans primly denounced any festivities and Virginians hunted, danced, and feasted and closes in the late twentieth century, when Santa has stationed a representative or two in every mall.