Wednesday, September 8, 2010

(Christmas) Thoughts out of Season

There is nothing really wrong with the whole modern world except that it does not fit in with Christmas. The modern world will have to fit in with Christmas or die. Those who will not rejoice in the end of the year must be condemned to lament it. We must accept the New Year as a new fact; we must be born again. No kind of culture or literary experience can save him who entirely refuses this cold bath of winter ecstasy. No poetry can be appreciated by him who cannot appreciate the mottoes in the crackers. No log-rolling can rescue him who will not roll the Yule-log. Christmas is like death and child-birth—a test of our simple virtue; and there is no other such test left in our land to-day.

"The Wrong Books at Christmas", Illustrated London News, January 9, 1909

This is one of my favourite Chesterton passages (and, as you can probably guess, that's saying a lot). I have often reflected that everything that's best about life is compressed into the festival of Christmas-- and the spirit of Christmas seems indestructible, despite all commercialization and secularization. (Speaking of the wrong books at Christmas, you can even buy an Atheist's Guide to Christmas for that special person in your life who believes that all purpose, meaning, morality and beauty are phantoms of the human brain.)

Why do people neglect (or even repudiate), for fifty weeks of the year, the very things they celebrate so eagerly in its final fortnight? When the Guardian reader hangs baubles on his Christmas tree, doesn't it occur to him that tradition, custom and ritual are joyous and life-enhancing things-- that he might be missing something in not standing to his country's national anthem, in not drinking toasts to the Queen? When the punk rock fan feels his heart glow to the strains of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", doesn't he ever consider that all the nihilism and anger on his mp3-player are dull and superficial compared to such reverence? When the cynic finds himself anxious that his children will believe in Santa Claus, doesn't he become aware of the morbidity in his own soul? Why aren't all men traditionalists, since all men love Christmas?

Christmas is the one time of the year when we let ourselves act like children-- when we let ourselves take intense and unabashed pleasure in the simplest of things, like a string of tinsel. In a disenchanted world-- a world with apparently little concern for tradition, custom, ritual, innocence, reverence and festival-- it is the one enclave of enchantment. Or as Chesterton puts it in the same article:

But if ever a faith is firmly founded again, it will be at least interesting to notice those few things that have bridged the gulf, that stood firm when faith was lost, and were still standing when it was found again. Of these really interesting things one, in all probability, will be the English celebration of Christmas. Father Christmas was with us when the fairies departed; and please God he will still be with us when the gods return.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Maol,
    One problem with your post is, that it is too short! More posts about "life-enhancing things" please! Anna