In 2006 Washington Post lifestyle columnist Hank Stuever headed to Frisco (population: roughly 90,000) as a modern explorer seeking the headwaters of the River Xmas, and the result is Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present . Though not against the holiday, he archly notes its nineteeth-century origins and tenuous connections to Christ’s birth before insinuating himself into three households: that of Jeff and Bridgette Trykoski, whose outdoor yule lights rack up three million YouTube hits; well-heeled Tammie Parnell, who runs a holiday decorating business; and evangelical divorced mom Caroll Cavazos, who hopes that her budget-breaking finds at Best Buy will make a rough season merry for her kids. Stuever knows his way around a wry observation and catalogs his subjects’ excesses with gentle bemusement. Though he remains cynically unaffected by their zeal and heads home decrying the synthetic seasonal cheer, his epistle from big-box America is revealing and humane. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24
Tinsel: A Search for America’s Christmas Present
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