Tackiness and excess have always been a part of the way we celebrate Christmas, and some of us work hard not to be stiff-necked prigs when it comes to Yuletide observances. Wednesday evening, in the rain and without umbrellas, we toured the Garden d’Lights at the Bellevue Botanical Garden. We wandered paths and admired flowers, a banana slug, scarecrow, peacocks and waterfall complete with leaping salmon, all fashioned from half a million lights. Imagine the kitschiest, most crowded, best-natured acid trip in the world. To object, to uphold standards of taste, to have behaved like an art critic, would have been smug and enormously annoying. We were having too much fun for that.
G.K. Chesterton would have approved. Unlike many writers, he knew how to celebrate, how to have a good time, how to be happy. In “Christmas,” an essay from his 1908 collection All Things Considered, he writes:
“Let us be consistent, therefore, about Christmas, and either keep customs or not keep them. If you do not like sentiment and symbolism, you do not like Christmas; go away and celebrate something else; I should suggest the birthday of Mr. M'Cabe.”
I didn’t notice much “sentiment and symbolism” at the Garden d’Lights, but did observe a lot of happy people, in particular children, enchanted and amused by the Las Vegas-like spectacle. Chesterton continues:
“No doubt you could have a sort of scientific Christmas with a hygienic pudding and highly instructive presents stuffed into a Jaeger stocking; go and have it then. If you like those things, doubtless you are a good sort of fellow, and your intentions are excellent. I have no doubt that you are really interested in humanity; but I cannot think that humanity will ever be much interested in you.”