Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chesterton on Festivals

The Christmas That Is Coming.

There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article.  It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is.  Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday.  At the next moment your heart leaps up and your body and soul dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice.  If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday.  But I say that whatever the day is that is to you so festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before.  And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day.  Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed hour.  The presents were kept tied up in brown paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally stuck.  I wish this principle were adopted in respect to modern Christmas ceremonies and publications.  Especially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines.  The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to an anticipation of the turkey which is to come.  Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept until Christmas Day.  On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper.  Whether the arm or the leg of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.
GK Chesterton The Spirit of Christmas
Written almost a century ago, the essay illustrates the early versions o some troubles we see in our own day.

We were up near the lunatic fringe of Christmas celebration.  Though entirely aware of the acquisitive, faux spiritual, and maudlin dangers of Christmas, we were determined to overcome these by sheer effort.  The Wyman eccentricity was distilled at Christmas.  Even in our current, more relaxed approach, we are still oddly intense about it.

We decorated our tree later than anyone we knew, but not quite the Old World custom of parents decorating it Christmas Eve to be revealed Christmas morning.  We thought about it, but we also had a fanatic tradition of family and holidays, and so traveled to all three sets of parents on the Day itself.  I won't detail our other charming lunacies, but simply mention that we created new and personal advent traditions, carol traditions, food traditions, read-aloud traditions, decorating traditions, hospitality traditions - what else...  Who knows?  you couldn't move to another room or say a complete sentence out loud with bumping up against some Wyman-only Christmas custom.

Tracy once taught an adult Sunday School class on Unplug The Christmas Machine.  Highly recommended, BTW.  But we didn't study and discuss it in order to reduce the energy put into the holiday, but to refine it and focus it.  We had traditions about pruning traditions.

1 comment:

Texan99 said...

Well, I guess I have a Yuletide tree, because I expect it to charm and entertain me for several weeks. But I don't hold with opening presents before Christmas morning. For that matter, I disapprove of moving holidays to the nearest Monday. Once a holiday gets so perfunctory that you can get away with doing that, you might as well admit it's no longer a real holiday.