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Durham e-Theses
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The Varieties of Christmas Magic:
An ethnography of festivity, identity, and worldview in British life

MURPHY, LUCINDA,ANNE,CHRISTINE (2022) The Varieties of Christmas Magic:
An ethnography of festivity, identity, and worldview in British life.
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



In the context of contemporary Britain, ‘Christmas’ has become synonymous with a distinctively hope-saturated world of utopian enchantment and vitality. It is the contention of this thesis that the set of ritual practices and corresponding moods wrapped up in the annual performance of this festive occasion have come to hold an ‘active mirror’ (Turner 1982) up to the very root of our hopes, fears, values, desires, disappointments, ideals, and beliefs. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in the North East of England from 2016-2019, this study seeks to delve into the complexity of this emotional matrix to explore what the world of Christmas might reveal about the nature of religion, culture, value, and belief in Britain today. Observing the ways in which Christmas comes to be performed across a range of public settings and lives, I seek to crosscut the go-to debates which have tended to dominate both colloquial and scholarly discourse around the more classically conceived ‘religious’ vs. ‘secular’ associations of Christmas to cast a broader anthropological lens upon the varieties of transcendence which become so clearly manifest in experiences of the festival, and which find especial resonance in references to the ‘Christmas spirit’ and/or ‘magic’. To this end, I suggest that Christmas not only provides an apt empirical window through which to study a range of diverse contemporary worldviews, beliefs, and attitudes, but constitutes in and of itself an especially prime site of meaning-making in the contemporary world. Considering in particular the manner in which Christmas comes to mark and mirror the key changes and transitions of people’s lives, this study represents to my knowledge one of the very first ethnographic attempts to examine the important role Christmas continues to play as a prime ritual-symbolic platform for the ‘sacralisation’ of contemporary British identities and worldviews (Mol 1976).

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Christmas; ritual; rites of passage; liminality; cultural intensification; transcendence; festivity; celebration; magic; enchantment; wish-fulfilment; Christmas spirit; identity; worldviews; belonging; meaning; communitas; hierophany; Victor Turner; social drama; nativity; carol services; Father Christmas; Santa Claus; elves; childhood; family; Anglicanism; heritage; tradition; memory; ethnography; performance; gift giving; gratitude; belief; values; utopia; hope; emotion; secular; religion; culture; holiday; symbol; loss; lament; dissonance; sacralisation; sacred; fieldwork; person-centred; reflexivity; dividuality; life-course; life transition
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Jan 2023 10:48

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