Saturday, December 14, 2013

`Go Away and Celebrate Something Else'

Indifference to Christmas is always feigned. Undisguised hostility I can understand, for joy is the most radical of emotions, outstripping mere love and hate, and its eruption at Christmas spooks the resolutely unhappy. I’m already tired of the earnest holiday carping. Chesterton devotes an essay to Christmas in All Things Considered (1908). Humorless warriors of virtue are nothing new:
“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. 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. Humanity is unhygienic from its very nature and beginning.” 

“Mr. M’Cabe” is Joseph McCabe, a former Roman Catholic priest who took Chesterton to task for being funny. In an essay collected in Heretics (1905), Chesterton famously says: “Mr. McCabe thinks that I am not serious but only funny, because Mr. McCabe thinks that funny is the opposite of serious. Funny is the opposite of not funny, and of nothing else.” In the Christmas essay, Chesterton defines the holiday by declaring what it is not: 

“Christmas is not modern; Christmas is not Marxian; Christmas is not made on the pattern of that great age of the Machine, which promises to the masses an epoch of even greater happiness and prosperity than that to which it has brought the masses at this moment. Christmas is medieval; having arisen in the earlier days of the Roman Empire. Christmas is a superstition. Christmas is a survival of the past.” 

Another celebratory Englishman, Charles Lamb, in “A Few Words on Christmas,” is perhaps less provocative, less bellicose than Chesterton, and more unapologetically joyous: 

“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.”

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