In this paper, I will use the history of Christmas in Germany to explore some connections between emotions and communities. I begin by suggesting that an interpretative method of discursive ethnography, drawn from the work of Barbara Rosenwein and Victor Turner, is an effective way to approach this theme. Then I apply this method to three case studies: The crystallization of the modern Christmas in the first half of the nineteenth century; advertising campaigns for holiday gifts around 1900; and the holiday observances of National Socialist SA-men in the 1920s and early 1930s. At the same time, I offer an analysis and critique of various appropriations of sentimentalism, the dominant emotion engendered in Christmas celebration, in these three cases. Sentimentalism — exaggerated expressions of feelings tied to family, love, and domesticity — provided the powerful feelings at the base of the “emotional communities” evoked “around the Christmas tree.” Despite the private, apparently innocent nature of domestic sentimentalism, I conclude that competing social groups readily used and abused this cluster of feelings, the central mood of the modern age, for a variety of public purposes.
Joe Perry is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of History at Georgia State University, Atlanta. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2001. His teaching and research concentrate on modern European social and cultural history, German history, and world civilization. He is currently working on a book on the history of television in West Germany in the 1950s and 60s. His publications include Christmas in Germany: A Cultural History (2010) and A History of Western Society, Combined Edition (co-author 2010).