The Festive Log was an AHRC Northern Bridge funded PhD research project led by Lucinda Murphy, who conducted her PhD in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University under the supervision of Professor Douglas Davies from 2016-2022. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out across a range of locales predominantly in the North East of England, this research set out to consider how different people, communities and organisations think about and celebrate Christmas in the context of contemporary Britain. Focusing in especially on the various ‘varieties’ of transcendence which come to be experienced at this time of year, the research was completed in 2022, and will soon be made available for public viewing on the Durham University e-Theses repository.
Christmas represents a very familiar set of practices, images, memories, and ideals which play a key role each year in many of our lives. Although there is a wealth of research on the historical development of the Christmas festival, up until now there has been surprisingly little research looking into the role it plays in contemporary British culture, and in the lives of the millions that celebrate it today. This study constitutes one of the very first social scientific to explore what the festival really means to people in this context, and aims to shine a light not only on the myriad of social, cultural and personal issues which really seem to come to the fore under the sparkly spotlight of Christmas, but on the significant role the festival has come to play in the affective regulation and renewal of contemporary identities and worldviews.
The main part of the fieldwork undertaken for this research saw Lucinda – alongside her fabulous research assistant Gelf the Elf! – engaging with four key communities in the lead up to Christmas 2017, which then led to 35 more detailed interviews with people met across these settings:
- Working as a trainee ‘Elf’ at Crook Hall and Gardens as part of the Hall’s Christmas activity days for children and families during December.
- Attending some of Durham Cathedral’s key Christmas carol services held throughout December.
- Working as a volunteer at a local non-faith primary school in the run up to Christmas, with particular focus on their annual school nativity play and celebrations.
- Working as a volunteer with North Tyneside Council on their ‘Make Christmas Special’ campaign, sitting in on the planning meetings held by the various charitable organisations/individuals who organise and/or volunteer as part of community Christmas lunches in their area on Christmas Day. This involved attending fundraising and planning events in the lead up to Christmas, as well as volunteering at an event on Christmas Day itself.
At the same time, we also launched an online community engagement project via social media, and this website, which allowed participants to actively follow the research as it progressed, and to explore some of the research questions for themselves by ‘logging’ their own stories as part of the research.
Although our questionnaire has now come to a close, you can still contribute to our community ‘logging’ of Christmas by contacting us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by leaving your comments below.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, you can go to the Explore the Themes section of this website, where you will find suggested discussion questions which might help get you and your friends and families thinking about the themes of this research over Christmas…or just act as handy conversation starters for the Christmas dinner table!
You can find us on social media by liking the Festive Log Research Project Page on Facebook, or on Twitter @lucinda_murphy / @MyElfGelf #thefestivelog