Friday, December 23, 2011

`The Season of Mirth and Cold Weather'

One strives haphazardly after charity, good will and a bright festive spirit. These are the moral amenities of the season, a joy to recognize in others, a trial to achieve in one’s self. Even Charles Lamb, who with Dickens is the writer I most readily associate with the happy observance of Christmas, found the task difficult. In a Dec. 23, 1822, letter to his friend Bernard Barton he writes:

“Christmas, too, is come, which always puts a rattle into my morning skull. It is a visiting, unquiet, unquakerish season. I get more and more in love with solitude, and proportionately hampered with company. I hope you have some holidays at this period. I have one day,--Christmas Day; alas! too few to commemorate the season. All work and no play dulls me. Company is not play, but many times hard work. To play, is for a man to do what he pleases, or to do nothing,--to go about soothing his particular fancies.”

One commiserates with Lamb, especially in his characterization of the season as “visiting, unquiet, unquakerish.” Later in the same letter he asks Barton “where I could pick up cheap Fox's Journal?” Barton was a Quaker, a poet and writer of hymns, a serious fellow fortunate to have so unserious a friend as Lamb. That same year, Charles Lamb published in London Magazine the essay he was born to write, “A Few Words on Christmas”:

“Oh! merry piping time of Christmas! Never let us permit thee to degenerate into distant courtesies and formal salutations. But let us shake our friends and familiars by the hand, as our fathers and their fathers did. Let them all come around us, and let us count how many the year has added to our circle. Let us enjoy the present, and laugh at the past. Let us tell old stories and invent new ones--innocent always, and ingenious if we can. Let us not meet to abuse the world, but to make it better by our individual example. Let us be patriots, but not men of party. Let us look of the time--cheerful and generous, and endeavour to make others as generous and cheerful as ourselves.”

Like all of us, Lamb was a fractured soul. He longed for solitude and preached Yuletide bonhomie. He was no hypocrite, merely a man. In “A Few Words” he asks, “And what is Christmas?” and supplies his own answer:

“Why, it is the happiest time of the year. It is the season of mirth and cold weather.”

No comments: