Monday, August 1, 2011

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

I love finding old periodicals (the older the better) in second-hand bookshops, and recently I came across a 2002 copy of the Chesterton Review in Chapters bookshop in Dublin's Abbey Street. The Chesterton Review is full of satisfyingly meaty articles, the kind of journal that makes you want to make a cup of tea and settle into it with a happy sigh.

This issue includes the article Chesterton on Air: The Writer and Broadcaster by Tony Evans, a member of the Australian Chesterton Society who has worked in radio himself. Chesterton, of course, became well-known for radio broadcasts towards the end of his life.

The recordings, for the most part, do not survive, but we do have transcripts. Evans quotes a passage from one particular talk, in which Chesterton suggests that our days of the week should actually celebrate the seven days of creation in Genesis. The passage appeals to me greatly:

I would be better if every Monday, instead of being Black Monday, were always Bright Monday, to commemorate the creation of the Light. It would be better if Tuesday, at present a word of colourless connotation, represented a great feast of fountains, and rivers and rolling streams; because it was the Day of the Division of the Waters. It would be better if every Wednesday were an occasion for hanging the house with green boughs or blossoms; because these things were brought forth on the third day of Creation; or that Thursday were sacred to the sun and the moon, and Friday sacred to fish and fowl; and so on. Then you might begin to have some notion of the importance of the week; and what a high and imaginative civilisation might really do with the week. If it had the creative power to produce such a pageant of creation, it would not bother with cinemas.

The only distinction most people give to any weekday is a frantic eagerness for Friday, so much so that Wednesday has been called "hump-day" since the hump of the working week has been past. It's rather depressing that anyone would wish their lives away like this; and surely it would be better to make something memorable of the working week, rather than live for one's free days. Saturday has become sacred to spectator sport and hedonism (which at least gives it some character), and Sunday has gone from being The Eighth Day, the Day of the Lord, to a day for reading glossy newspaper supplements.

(I remember, in school, one of the short stories in our English text concerned a little boy who wanted to buy a rabbit, but who had to contend with the stern Scottish Presbyterian Sabbath of the time. Of course, the reader's sympathies were supposed to be entirely with the boy, and entirely against the long Scripture readings and cold dishes prepared the day before-- but my boyish imagination was sparked by the Sabbath, and not the rabbit. What a special day it must have been, I thought.)

I have read that, in the Middle Ages, every third day was a holiday. Now that we have so many labour-saving devices, of course, we probably can't afford so many interruptions. (Chesterton often mentions with relish, when he writes about Christmas-- which is as often as he can-- that the title of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night refers to the twelve days of holiday that everybody, noble and common, enjoyed after Christmas.)

But why should that stop us making a feast of every day? There is an infinity of themes and institutions we could give the days of the week. We could make rhubarb tart the food of Monday, blow bubbles on Tuesday, tell jokes on Wednesday, have sing-songs on Thursday. We could commemorate the birthday of Edgar Allen Poe by reading The Raven aloud, or put on Napoleon hats to commemorate the great Emperor's death. Of course, Christians have an ancient and time-hallowed calendar of saint's days and forgotten feast days to revive. Why should any day be just another day? And indeed, why should we stop at the days of the week and not go on to consecrate the hours of the day?


  1. What a wonderful reflection. With your blessing, I would like to use this quotation at The Hebdomadal Chesterton.

    There are echoes (or whatever one should call a pre-echo) of this way of thinking in the Christian tradition. “We spend our whole lives like a feast day,” wrote St. Clement of Alexandria. “We have unending holiday,” said St. John Chrysostom. “In domo Dei festivitas sempiterna est,” wrote St. Augustine. If the world is truly good, it must be so.

  2. You are very welcome to use the quotation!

    Chesterton said he was convinced of the truth of Catholicism for innumerable converging reasons. I'm the same; and one of the reasons is that the Church understands the human needs for cycles and festivals and special times.