Horrible Christmas Book Review
Not Just A Boring Textbook
Before you begin reading Horrible Christmas, you should know that this isn’t anything close to being sufficient for use as a history textbook that can be utilised as a source for primary or secondary-school history work. A genuine source more useful for this can be found here https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/christmas/the-history-of-christmas/. The entire purpose of the Horrible Histories series is to present various historical periods in a fun and light-hearted manner, with plenty of jokes along the way. This book is no different, either: it is a fun collection of historical facts and peculiarities, sometimes (but not always) organised into chronological order, and always with either a light-hearted, or sometimes darkly funny twist.
Peek at the contents: you won’t find any sort of sweeping overview or logical step-by-step or period-by-period guide to the history of Christmas, or not in the classic way you would expect in a standard history textbook, anyway. Instead, the book is divided into 20 sections, each with their own intriguing title. For example, the book begins with Christmas Carols, and goes on to present other interesting sections like Foul Food,Daft Data, Rotten Christmas, and ending with subjects like The Knight Before Christmas, and finally Christmas Future. Most of these titles are self-explanatory, with each section containing one or more intriguing facts, often presented in a “Did you Know?” style, with accompanying illustrations and plentiful shapes to break up the text on the page.
So now you know this isn’t a text that is intended to thoroughly explore the history of Christmas in a boring and unoriginal manner (though it does have a section that presents a timeline of major dates relating to Christmas through the ages), let’s look at what this book does very well: making the practise of learning historical facts fun, utilising Christmas as a canvas on which these facts are colourfully painted.
What Kind of Things are In the Book?
After an introduction about Ebenezer Scrooge that sets the funny and amusing style of the book, Terry Deary begins by covering his first subject: Christmas Carols. Did you know that the famous Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas was made up in the 1800s, and the story in it mostly changed in order to fit a song that was actually written in the 1300s. Did you know that he was also chopped to pieces by his mother and brother when he was only 22 years old? These are the kind of facts you can expect within this book, which is full of these sorts of miniature investigations into the claims and supposed knowledge contained within various Christmas traditions.
If you want to know a little bit more about how Christmas as an idea and a tradition has survived through the ages, one of the book’s early chapters called Christmas History presents some of the most important dates throughout history. This starts in 6BC with Jesus being born, though as Terry Deary tells us, he could have been born earlier or later than this, since the Romans only conducted a census of the population every 14 years – this suggests that some established interpretations of Jesus’ birth may be wrong - http://www.comereason.org/roman-census.asp. So much for what we are told when we are growing up! The chapter then follows Christmas through the middle ages up to 1914, where the soldiers on the western front in World War I met to play a game of football before going back to fighting each other.
This book is packed with a whole host of fascinating facts such as these. The content ranges from the history of the Christmas cracker, to how Turkeys would make it to the UK for consumption during the 1800s, how Peacocks were also eaten during the medieval period, and some very unfortunate Christmas happenings such as a chapter containing some of the worst Christmas-related disasters from history.
Not Just Historical Facts
As well as presenting humorous historical Christmas facts, there is also some variation provided within the book in the form of some literature written by Terry Deary himself (this is found in the Christmas Wish chapter), telling a fun yet dark story of a girl called Wilhelmina.
There are even some quizzes spread throughout the book. These are designed to test your knowledge of festive facts. Daft Data is one such chapter that asks you some questions, testing how much you know about certain Christmas sayings, as well as exploring some interesting numbers such as Britain spending £450 million on a certain food every year and 158,000 tonnes of a certain item that are put on the British Isles each Christmas. These quizzes have the function of making the book more interactive and dynamic that just having a bunch of facts and illustrations shoved into the pages of a book.
What this Book Does Well
This book certainly presents a whole host of historical facts in a very entertaining manner, and in a style that is typical of the Horrible Histories series here - https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/shows/horrible-histories. Its style is very consistent with any of the other works of the series, too, and feels like a continuation of the series before it.
Terry Deary has a way of holding your interest by presenting a lot of things we thought we knew about Christmas, and managing to either change our view on it by presenting the real facts, or changing our perspective on the subject by giving us some of the lesser-known, gruesome, funny, or impressive facts and reasoning behind the historical events and practises we thought we knew all about. By mixing in funny jokes as well as gruesome humour and some very corny one-liners, he manages to keep even the more sordid historical facts light-hearted and easy to digest.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the way Deary presents the historical facts in this book teaches its readers to question the accuracy of the facts they thought they knew. It is effectively teaching the readers to think in a logical manner by presenting them with fun facts, figures, and timelines. These often contradict what we have often been taught about Christmas through the ages and challenge us to consider changing our minds about common misconceptions about things such as the birth of Jesus, the dates of Christmas through the ages, and why many historical practices have survived through the ages.
Teaching children to consider that they may not be right about some aspects of history and teaching them to challenge what they believe are already-established and accurate facts about Christmas, brings them one step closer to actually thinking like an historian. It encourages children not to feel bad about not knowing certain historical facts, but to read further about the subject in question since they may discover new knowledge that teaches us something we didn’t know about certain periods and practises of history.
The book has the look and style we have come to love from the Horrible Histories franchise, and the illustrations contained within it are also very recognisable in their style. These drawings break up the text, so it doesn’t get too heavy – this is perfect for Primary-level learners. Secondary-school students won’t find many things truly useful they will be able to use in their history examinations, but there are plenty of utterly fascinating facts to be found within this book’s 96 pages.
Though the jokes might be a bit silly, the deeper potential of this book of teaching children that even established sources can be wrong or inaccurate, is an important feature of the book. This teaches children to think critically, and to potentially seek out more fun and interesting facts that fill in the gaps in their historical knowledge. For this reason, Horrible Christmas which can be purchased here - https://www.amazon.co.uk/Horrible-Christmas-Histories-Terry-Deary/dp/1407178717 comes highly recommended as a text for younger and not-so-young students of history alike.