December 25, 2003

Are You Ritualistic Enough for Christmas?

Category: Church Year :: Permalink

It occurred to me as I was typing it that the Wright quotation I posted yesterday, taken by itself, could be a bit imbalanced, as if Wright left no place for carols and candles (and cookies), as if the only point of Christmas was to remind us that the world was so evil that it needed Christ to come.

The good news, of course, is that the King has been born, the Light of the world has come, and though His own people rejected Him, yet to those who received Him He gave the right to be the children of God (John 1). And so there certainly is joy — and there can be carols and candles and cookies! — for those who live in the Light and who belong to the King.

And now, changing the topic only slightly, a comment from Chesterton on Christmas:

As I walk down the street I admit that I can understand a sensitive person being a little bored, or at least a little bewildered, with the external displays of Christmas, the shop-fronts full of sheafs and sheafs of incongruous Christmas cards or with children’s toys that only madmen could make and only millionaires buy.

One writer against Christmas went so far as to say that the shopkeepers for their own commercial purposes alone sustain Christmas Day. I am not sure whether he said that the shopkeepers invented Christmas Day. Perhaps he thought that the shopkeepers invented Christianity. It is a quaint picture, the secret conclave between the cheesemonger, the poulterer, and the toy-shop keeper, in order to draw up a theology that shall convert all Europe and sell some of their goods.

Opponents of Christianity would believe anything except Christianity. That the shopkeepers make Christmas is about as conceivable as that the confectioners make children. It is about as sane as that milliners manufacture women.

Still, as I have said, I can understand a man finding the common Christmas shows incomprehensible or tiresome. The Christmas cards especially sometimes reach the flattest or dreariest level of caddishness or cant.

But this is simply because we leave Christmas symbolism so much in the automatic hands of hirelings. It is not because we feel too Christmassy, but because we do not feel Christmassy enough. All these hilarious human observances are in this respect in the same position: as long as they are enjoyed they are enjoyable; it is only when a priggish criticism is brought to bear on them that they become, in practice, prosaic and irritating. It is not the popular belief in them, but a popular disbelief in them that makes them a general nuisance.

The opponents of ritual attack it on the ground that it becomes formal and hollow. So it does. But ritual only becomes formal and hollow where men are not sufficiently ritualistic. — G. K. Chesterton, “The Neglect of Christmas,” The Illustrated London News, Jan. 13, 1906.

Merry Christmas, everyone! “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”

Posted by John Barach @ 11:09 am | Discuss (0)

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