Christmas: a subversive legal history

In a guest post, Professor Russell Sandberg takes something of a sideways look at Christmas and the common law…

Lawyers typically use history to stabilise the present. In my new book, Subversive Legal History: A Manifesto for the Future of Legal Education, I argue that history should be used instead to subvert what we think we know about the law. Recourse to history shows that things that we think of as being fixed and everlasting are nothing of the sort and provide us with different ways of thinking.

In this festive and light-hearted blog post, I further this theme by showing how reference to history can question and subvert much of what we assume about Christmas. This blog will illustrate this by adventuring through the centuries, looking in outline at particular periods.

Indeed, there are many points of similarity between Christmas and the common law. Both are often claimed to be successful English exports and both are assumed to have existed since time immemorial. These assumptions are false – and in both cases, much of what we take for granted is actually a Victorian legacy, a result of a romanticised recapturing of a past that never really quite happened in the way that it is assumed to have done. Continue reading