Wednesday, December 14, 2011

As we all know, Christmas is a time for...!

I have a busy Christmas ahead (busy in a fun way, I assure you), so I'm going to be very lazy and regurgitate my Christmas posting of last year. But the good news's all pure undiluted Chesterton! Enjoy, and Happy Christmas! Oh, and we are now up to thirty-five followers! Brilliant!

All Dickens's books are Christmas books. But this is still truest of his two or three famous Yuletide tales -- The Christmas Carol and The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. Of these The Christmas Carol is beyond comparison the best as well as the most popular. Indeed, Dickens is in so profound and spiritual a sense a popular author that in his case, unlike most others, it can generally be said that the best work is the most popular. It is for Pickwick that he is best known; and upon the whole it is for Pickwick that he is best worth knowing. In any case this superiority of The Christmas Carol makes it convenient for us to take it as an example of the generalisations already made. If we study the very real atmosphere of rejoicing and of riotous charity in The Christmas Carol we shall find that all the three marks I have mentioned are unmistakably visible. The Christmas Carol is a happy story first, because it describes an abrupt and dramatic change. It is not only the story of a conversion, but of a sudden conversion; as sudden as the conversion of a man at a Salvation Army meeting. Popular religion is quite right in insisting on the fact of a crisis in most things. It is true that the man at the Salvation Army meeting would probably be converted from the punch bowl; whereas Scrooge was converted to it. That only means that Scrooge and Dickens represented a higher and more historic Christianity.

Again, The Christmas Carol owes much of its hilarity to our second source -- the fact of its being a tale of winter and of a very wintry winter. There is much about comfort in the story; yet the comfort is never enervating: it is saved from that by a tingle of something bitter and bracing in the weather. Lastly, the story exemplifies throughout the power of the third principle -- the kinship between gaiety and the grotesque. Everybody is happy because nobody is dignified. We have a feeling somehow that Scrooge looked even uglier when he was kind than he had looked when he was cruel. The turkey that Scrooge bought was so fat, says Dickens, that it could never have stood upright. That top-heavy and monstrous bird is a good symbol of the top-heavy happiness of the stories.

Charles Dickens, 1906

One of the first reforms of Lenin and Trotsky was, I believe, to abolish Christmas. It is not the only point on which the prejudices of the most emancipated Progressives are an exact copy of the prejudices of the most antiquated Puritans.

A Christmas of Peace, 1918

Some of our more advanced ethical teachers might well write a new version of “The Christmas Carol”—a sort of Anti-Christmas Carol. For the drama of Dickens might well appear to them not a comedy of conversion, but a tragedy of apostasy. The story would start with Scrooge as a lofty and idealistic vegeterian, partaking of a pure and hygienic diet of gruel. It would end with the same Scrooge, now degraded by superstition, and engaged in a cannibal conspiracy for the assasination of a turkey…Eugenics, which often form a part of such ethics, might here suggest a thoughtful passage about the mistake made in the birth of Tiny Tim, and the desirability of correcting that mistake with all speed in some timely and quiet fashion.

The New Attack on Christmas, 1919

This is written amidst fields of snow within a few days of Christmas. And when I last saw snow it was within a few miles of Bethlehem. The coincidence will serve as a symbol of something I have noticed all my life, though it is not very easy to sum up. It is generally the romantic thing that turns out to be the real thing, under the extreme test of realism. It is the sceptical and even the rational legend that turns out to be entirely legendary. Everything I had been taught or told led me to regard snow in Bethlehem as a paradox, like snow in Egypt. Every rumour of realism, every indirect form of rationalism, every scientific opinion taken on authority and at third hand, had led me to regard the country where Christ was born solely as a sort of semi-tropical place, with nothing but palm trees and parasols. It was only when I actually looked at it that it looked exactly like a Christmas card. It was only by the sight of my bodily eyes, and against all my mental training, that I realised how true is the tradition handed down in a Christmas carol…the whole background was so mountainous as to be in many ways Northern.

Now this nameless northern element in the first landscapes of Christianity has had a certain effect on our own history. As the great creed and philosophy which united our fathers swept westwards over the world, it found its different parts peculiarly fitted to different places….while the Latins more especially preserved the legends about the soldiers, we in the north felt a special link with the legend of the shepherds. We concentrated on Christmas, on the element of winter and the wild hills in the old Christian story. Thus Christmas is, in a special sense, at once European and English. It is European because it appeals to the religion of Europe. It is English because it specialises in those religious customs that can make even our own landscape a holy land.

A Progress from England, 1920

Christmas belongs to an order of ideas which never really perished, and which is now less likely to perish than ever. It had from the first a sort of glamour of a lost cause; it was like an everlasting sunset. It is only the things that never die that get the reputation of dying.

Christmas and the Peasant Traditions, 1921

Mr. Arnold Bennett began, indeed, by eliminating the more mystical elements in Christmas by a device of curious and almost creepy simplicity. He alluded to the fact that the 25th of December was the traditional date of the Nativity of Jesus Christ, and then thought it was enough to say that it probably was not the historical date at all. There is a sort of innocence in this which I cannot but feel as faintly amusing, despite the seriousness of this aspect of the subject. Some light on the logic of the process may be thrown by merely imagining it applied to any other festival, even the most strictly secular and social festival. Suppose it were found that by some error in an official document the Battle of Trafalgar had been attributed to Oct. 21 when it was really fought on Oct. 23. It would be surely a rather extraordinary argument to deduce from this that Trafalgar Day need have nothing to do with Nelson, nothing to do with naval glory, nothing to do with patriotism, nothing to do with England. It would be rather odd to argue that because of this shuffling of dates any Cosmopolitan, any Continental enemy of England, any Internationalist who hated all flags, any Pacifist who hated all fighting, had just as much to do with Trafalgar as an English sailor.

…You cannot select a particular day without selecting a particular subject. You cannot have a day devoted to everything; it is contradicted by the very word devotion. You cannot have a festival dedicated to things in general; it is contradicted by the very idea of dedication. No religion, as far as I know, has ever had a Feast of the Universe; and Robespierre did not really get very far even with a Feast of the Supreme Being.

On Generalizing Christmas, 1922

The Christmas celebrations will certainly remain, and will certainly surive any attempt by modern artists, idealists or neo-pagans to substitute anything else for them. For the truth is that there is an alliance between religion and real fun, of which the modern thinkers have never got the key, and which they are quite unable to criticise or destroy. All Socialist Utopias, all new Pagan Paradises, promised in this age to mankind have all one horrible fault. They are all dignified. All the men in William Morris are dignified. All the men even in H.G. Well are dignified, when they are men at all. But being undignified is the essence of all real happiness, whether before God or man. Hilarity involves humility; nay, it involves humiliation.

The Survival of Christmas, 1908

Thus, by talking a great deal about the solar solstice, it can be maintained that Christmas is a sort of sun-worship; to all of which the simple answer is that it feels quite different. If people profess to feel the “spirit” behind symbols, the first thing I expect of them is that they shall feel how opposite are the adoration of the sun and the following of the star.

Christmas and the Progressive Movement, 1910

Most men need institutions to make them distinguish themselves; and they also need institutions to make them enjoy themselves. For, paradoxical as it sounds, men shrink back from enjoyment; they make one automatic step backwards from the brink of hilarity; because they know that it means the loss of dignity and a certain furious self-effacement. It is to get over this first reluctance of every reveller that men have created also coercive festivals such as Christmas Day.

The Alleged Decline of Christmas, 1910

Friday, December 9, 2011

Thirty Followers!

Welcome to anyone who has started reading recently, and thank you to older readers!

Remember you are all welcome to blog here-- just send a post to and I will put it up as long as it doesn't libel anyone and bears some conceivable relation to Chesterton.

To celebrate, a passage that caught my eye from one of Chesterton's Illustrated London News articles (for October 10, 1908, as it happens):

As a matter of intellect and conviction I believe in one religion; but, as a matter of fancy and sympathy I can believe in any number. Charles Lamb said that he could read any books, not counting books that were not books-- such as works of history, science, philosophy and politics. So I say that I can feel a sympathy with any religion that is a religion; I don't count the Higher Pantheism or the Newest Theosophy or the Christianity of Tolstoy. I mean really jolly religions, where you do something-- bang on a gong or attempt to worship a bear.

People who want religion without ritual, ceremony and all the trappings such as robes and mitre that seem to offend their egalitartian sympathies so much, seem to me rather like people who want Christmas without turkey, baubles, tinsel or gifts. Of course, the analogy is not perfect-- but don't these people see how miserable they are being? The bishop wears his robes for our benefit, not for his own. The treasures of the Vatican are for the benefit of the pilgrims who have scraped and saved to make the pious trip, not for the sake of the curia, on whom the novelty must have worn off to some degree.