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Christmas Past

Author: Brian Earl

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Behind every Christmas tradition is a story, often a forgotten one. Every year as we put up a tree and pour the eggnog, we’re continuing generations-old narratives, while being mostly unaware of their starting chapters. 

Join Brian Earl to explore the fascinating stories behind the most wonderful time of the year. It's equal parts nerdy deep dive and warmhearted celebration. Think: NPR meets Clement Clarke Moore! 

Christmas Past is one of the longest running Christmas podcasts, soon entering its ninth season. Vanity Fair says: "With excellent production, engaging narration, and short, digestible running times, Christmas Past is perfect to put on while decorating your tree or preparing Christmas dinner."

Brian's new book is out now from Lyons Press and Recorded books! Get your copy today, wherever books are sold. And makes a great gift!

218 Episodes
Christmas 2023

Christmas 2023


It's our eighth consecutive Christmas together. As we close out the 2023 season, we're taking a look back at the news and trends that made this Christmas what it was. Thank you all for another wonderful Christmas season together. Merry Christmas! And until we meet again, may your days be merry and bright. Music in this Episode "Deck the Halls A" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
Here in America, the day after Christmas is simply that: the day after. The party's over. But in England, it's an official holiday. December 26 — Boxing Day — is the Christmas afterparty you've been missing out on. What's the story? And what does it have to do with boxing? Paul Kerensa joins Christmas Past to...unpack the box.   Mentioned in this Episode Paul Kerensa Hark! The Biography of Christmas, by Paul Kerensa Music in this Episode "Good King Wenceslas" — U.S. Army Band, via Wikimedia Commons "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" — DJ Williams, via Youtube Audio Library "In the Bleak Midwinter" — Julius H., via Pixabay "Emotional Piano Improvisation" — Alexander Nakarada, via Film Music "Holiday Gift" — Kai Engel, via Free Music Archive Section from A Christmas Carol read by Peter John Keeble, courtesy of Librivox
Christmas Day is less than a week from now. In this final stretch of the 2023 season, let's have another gathering of the Christmas Past family. Yes, it’s time once again for an episode dedicated just to you and your Christmas memories. Cozy up by the fire with us for a little Christmas reminiscing.  Music in this Episode "A Very Brady Special" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
For many families, the Christmas Eve feast is a so-called "meatless meal." It's a tradition of European Christian roots that has gone on to take many forms. Mentioned in this episode Plating Grace Music in this Episode "Italian Trip" — wildsound159, via Pixabay "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," — Don Maue, shared directly by the artist "First Snow" — Scott Buckley, via "Silent Night" — DJ Williams, via Youtube Audio Library "Mortality" — Podington Bear, via Free Music Archive
Old Fezziwig sure knew how to throw an office Christmas party. Dickens's description of Christmas Eve in Fezziwig's counting house included vigorous fiddling and elaborate dancing. That style of dance may belong to a bygone time, but it lives on in the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair. In this special episode, Cathleen Myers joins Christmas Past to explain how Victorians danced their way to Christmas. Mentioned in this Episode The Great Dickens Christmas Fair Period Events and Entertainments Re-Creation Society (Peers) Music in this Episode "Toe Tapper" — Primal House Music, via Pixabay "Ambient Grand Piano for Meditation or Background" — Julius H., via Pixabay
In the late nineteenth century modern postal systems were still coming into their own. Around the turn of the century, many countries, including England, began issuing Christmas themed postage stamps. You might think that America would have been among them, but boy would you be wrong.  In fact, America was one of the last countries to get on board. American Christmas stamps are only a few decades old. And the story there has to do with simple economics and America’s system of government. Mentioned in this Episode Christmas Philatelic Club Music in this Episode "Christmas Jazz" — Denys Kyshchuk, via Pixabay "Running Waters" — Audionautix, via Youtube Audio Library "Noel" — Audionautix, via Youtube Audio Library "Acoustic Guitar 1" — Audionautix, via Youtube Audio Library "Dreamland" — Aakash Gandhi, via Youtube Audio Library "Wish Background" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
The Brady Bunch is an iconic American sitcom that ran for five seasons. But it produced only one Christmas episode during its original run. "The Voice of Christmas" from season 1 finds Carol with laryngitis days before she's scheduled to sing a solo for her church's Christmas service. The one and only Christopher Knight joins Brian to break this episode down. Mentioned in this Episode The Real Brady Bros Music in this Episode "A Very Brady Special" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech "Brady Bunch Image Sound-Alike Music" — Noisepatterns, via SoundCloud "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech "Working Time - Soft Acoustic Guitar" — Dream Protocol, via Pixabay "Invisible Beauty" — Aakash Gandhi, via Youtube Audio Studio
For a bread that’s short, its history is long. Exactly how long, and the particulars of how it all came about, though, are unclear. But one this is clear: shortbread is an essential — and delicious — part of the festive season.  Mentioned in this Episode Tasting History Youtube Channel Tasting History, book by Max Miller Music in this Episode "Hush Ye, My Bairnie" — Trygve Larsen, Pixabay "Drops of Melting Snow (after Holst, Abroad as I was walking)" — Axletree, via Free Music Archive "Soft Piano" — Agnese Valmaggia, via Film Music "Auld Lang Syne" — Trygve Larsen, Pixabay "Angels We Have Heard on High" — Don Maue, shared directly by the artist
One of my favorite parts of creating Christmas Past is sharing your Christmas memories. I love the warm connections I’ve had with so many of you over the years, and the glimpses you provide into your Christmases Past. So, today, I’m excited to take a break from the normal action and bring to you an episode dedicated just to you and your Christmas memories. Music in this Episode Piano Music No. 5 — RelaxingTime, via Pixabay
Colorful, glossy, enticing. For generations of children, the annual department store Christmas catalog was a field guide, a treasure map, and the fuel for hearts desires and letters to Santa. And then, one day, they were gone.   Mentioned in this Episode Wish Book Web Music in this Episode "Jingle Bells Relax Piano" — Oleg Kirilkov, via Pixabay "Merry Christmas Everyone Piano" — 23117649, via Pixabay "Christmas is for Kids" — Juan Sanchez, via Pixabay "Wish Background" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
Backstory — Stollen

Backstory — Stollen


Stollen is a Christmas staple in German homes. This cake/bread hybrid is packed with flavor and shaped to resemble a swaddled baby. Food writer Luisa Weiss joins Christmas Past to explain stollen's special connection to German Christmas and German baking culture. Mentioned in this Episode Luisa Weiss Classic German Baking, by Luisa Weiss Music in this Episode "Winter Fairy Dance - Orchestral with Bells and Choir" — Paul Winter, via Pixabay "Wonderful Christmas Time [Classic Version]" — Frank Schroeter, via Film Music "Snow Falls Softly at Night" — Frank Schroeter, via Film Music "Piano Ballad 2" — Reeg'sB, via Film Music "Magic of Christmas" — Sergei Chetvertnykh, via Pixabay
The mostly warm, fuzzy, cozy, sanitized Christmas is mainly a product of 19th and 20th century American influence. In earlier times, Christmas had a spooky side — one example of which is the Welsh tradition of the ghostly gray mare: the Mari Lwyd.  Mentioned in this Episode Jeff Belanger The Fright Before Christmas by Jeff Belanger Music in this Episode "John Barleycorn" — Julius H., via Pixabay "Dread Lake" — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive "Mile Marker 323" — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive "Relaxing Acoustic - Noel" —Oleksii Kaplunskyi, via Pixabay "Dramatic Uplifting Cinematic Piano" — Yevhen Onoychenko, via Pixabay Additional sound effects via Freesound
By the turn of the 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in America by far. In 1907, when a tuberculosis treatment clinic was in financial straits, Emily Bissell created Christmas Seals as a fundraiser. It was as novel as it was effective. More than a century later, Christmas Seals are still one of the prominent sights of the season.  Mentioned in this Episode American Lung Association Music in this Episode "Autumn Leaves" — Maarten Schellekens, via Free Music Archive "Piano Reflection 2" — Agnese Valmaggia, via Film Music "Angels We Have Heard" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech "Reawakening" — Scott Buckley, "Ding Dong Merrily on High" — Leigh Robinson, via Pixabay
These days, the Christmas season is the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Way back when, it was the period beginning on Christmas Day, and included 12 days of merrymaking and mischief. The Twelve Days of Christmas aren't really part of our modern Christmas celebration — except for the song lyrics and the odd reference here and there.  What are the twelve days of Christmas? And what happened to them? Are we missing out on anything by forgetting them? Well, if feasting, cross dressing, upending social hierarchy, and having a raucous good time sound at all interesting to you, then...yes. Yes we are! Mentioned in this Episode Why We Kiss Under the Mistletoe: Christmas Traditions Explained, by Michael Foley Music in this Episode "Twelve Days of Christmas" — Inner Splendor, via Feels Like Christmas "Miracles" — Tom Parkin, via Mega Monkey Music "Contemplation" — Maarten Schellekens, via Free Music Archive "Careless Morning" — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive "Always With Me, Always With You" — Daddy S Music, via Pixabay
Backstory — Elves

Backstory — Elves


The earliest myths involving elves portrayed them as mischievous or even malicious creatures that posed dangers to humans and animals. So, how do we get from there to jolly little Christmas elves? It’s a story that takes us from ancient Ancient Europe to the current day — one that involves mythology, modern American influence, the power of poetry and literature, possibly the rise of industrialization, and definitely...sticking it to the Nazis. Mentioned in this Episode Christmas in the Crosshairs, by Gerry Bowler Santa Claus: A Biography, by Gerry Bowler The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Gerry Bowler Music in this Episode "Ivory Pillow" — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive "Ambient Piano" — BlackPy Beats, via Pixabay "Road in the Forest" — Olexy, via Pixabay "Christmas Music Box" — Oleg Kirilkov, via Pixabay "Gentle Soft Piano | Christmas Vibes" — Alex Productions, via Free Music Archive
Decorative nutcrackers — most often resembling a toy soldier, but available in countless other characters — are synonymous with the Christmas season. Why? It’s a story whose origins predate Christmas itself. And whose history involves a mining town, Napoleon, dance theater, and World War two. So...let’s get crackin’! Mentioned in this Episode  Music in this Episode "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" — Kevin MacLeod, via Wikimedia Commons "March from the Nutcracker" — Trygve Larsen, via Pixabay "Chinese Dance from the Nutcracker" — Trygve Larsen, via Pixabay "Arabian Dance from the Nutcracker" — Trygve Larsen, via Pixabay "Wish Background" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman was a prolific author in the 19th century. Her Christmas stories showed up every year in newspapers and magazines. Professor Thomas Ruys Smith recently published a new collection of Freeman's Christmas stories. Professor Smith joins me today to discuss Freeman, and then Brian narrates "Harriet Anne's Christmas" from the collection. Mentioned in this Episode The Last Gift: The Christmas Stories of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman Music in this Episode "Family Holiday" — Aleksey Chistilin, via Pixabay "Piano Music No. 1" — Relaxing Time, via Pixabay "Relaxing Piano Music" — Kevin Macleod, via Incompetech
As we ease our way into another Christmas season, we're practicing thta somewhat forgotten tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time! In 1883, Temple Bar magazine published a story by a writer and physician named Arthur Conan Doyle. Nowadays, we refer to him as sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and we know him best as the creator of that most famous of detectives: Sherlock Holmes. But this 1883 story isn’t about Sherlock. It’s about a ship trapped in arctic ice and the strange things the captain and crew experience. Join Brian for a reading of The Captain of the Polestar. Mentioned in this Episode Biblioasis Music in this Episode "Dewbound" — Blue Dot Sessions, via Free Music Archive "Ethereal Relaxation" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech
Christmas 2022

Christmas 2022


Join Christmas Past one last time in the 2022 season. It's our annual look back at the sights, sounds, news, and trends that made Christmas of 2022 what it was. Merry Christmas to all, and many thanks for being part of the 2022 season of Christmas Past. Music in This Episode "This Christmas" — Hot Music, via Pixabay "Deck the Halls A" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech "Silent Night" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech Buy the Christmas Past Book! Order your copy today. And makes a great gift! Amazon Barnes & Noble Books-a-Million IndieBound Share a Christmas memory  Be on the podcast! Just record a voice memo into your phone and send it to Keep it reasonably short, clean and family friendly, and be sure to say your name and where you're from.  Keep in touch Facebook page Facebook group Twitter Instagram Website
Comments (9)

Angela Crum

Fantastic podcast for folks who love Christmas, stories, history, and general cheer. This is a feel good podcast.

Dec 6th

Jessica Watson

Wish the ending discussed how Mr. Stanwyck would have improved things for the life of the miners, sounds like they were striking for a reason. good story!

Dec 26th

Karen Kretschmer

my grama used to read this to me along with the other fairy tales. haven't heard it in a long time. thanks.

Nov 25th
Reply (1)

Amber Fixler

any mention of Jesus?

Dec 24th

Andrew Holmes

excellent show . love listening to it here in England very entertaining and informative.

Dec 16th

Katie Larson-Morin

I found this podcast shortly after Christmas 2017 and really enjoyed each episode. It helped to mitigate the after Christmas blues. Looking forward to listening before the holidays next Christmas (2018).

Jan 11th
Reply (2)
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