Friday, February 15, 2008

Christmas Must Go

by G.K. Chesterton




Christmas is utterly unsuited to the modern world. It presupposes the possibility of families being united, or reunited, and even of the men and women who chose each other being on speaking terms. Thus thousands of young adventurous spirits, ready to face the facts of human life, and encounter the vast variety of men and women as they really are, ready to fly to the ends of the earth and tolerate every alien or accidental quality in cannibals or devil-worshippers, are cruelly forced to face an hour, nay sometimes even two hours, in the society of Uncle George; or some aunt from Cheltenham whom they do no particularly like. Such abominable tortures cannot be tolerated in a time like ours. That larger brotherhood, that truer sensibility, has already taught every spirited young lady (of sufficient wealth and leisure) to be thrilled at the prospect of having breakfast with a gun-man, lunch with a Sheik, and dinner with an Apache in Paris. It is intolerable that such sensibility should suffer the shock of the unexpected appearance of her own mother, or possibly her own child. It was never supposed that Parents were included in the great democratic abstraction called People. It was never supposed that brotherhood could extend to brothers.

Anyhow, Christmas is unsuited to modern life; its concentration in the household was conceived without allowing for the size and convenience of the modern hotel; its inheritance of ceremonial ignored the present convention of unconventionality; its appeal to childhood was in conflict with the more liberal conception; that Bright Young Things should always feel as if they were old and talk as if they were dull. That freer and franker school of manners, which consists of being bored with everybody who is present and forgetting everybody who is absent, is insulted in its first part by the old custom of drinking healths or exchanging good wishes, and in its second part by the custom of writing letters or sending Christmas cards. Under the load of such old tribal or communal exchanges, it is impossible to preserve the fine shade, the delicate distinction that marks modern manners; the distinction by which the next-door neighbour in the street is forgotten, while the next door neighbour at the dinner-table is only ignored. How could we expect to extend a tradition that depended upon hospitality, across that happy interlude in the modern fashionable world, which replaced hospitality by housebreaking? Some variation of phrase was doubtless essential; and, to speak strictly and pedantically, it was called gate-crashing when done by the upper classes and housebreaking when done by the lower classes. But the burglar drinking whisky of which he had not been invited to partake, and the Bright Young Thing drinking champagne of which she had not been invited to partake, unconsciously joined hands in one great forward and progressive urge to sweep away the old superstition of hospitality. Hospitality has a hundred horrid implications anyhow; it implies that my home belongs to me more than it belongs to an interviewer from a syndicated millionaire newspaper in Detroit; and however heartily and affectionately I may entertain and embrace such an interviewer, there is still a queer atmospheric prejudice hovering in his mind, not to mention mine; the old uncanny and creepy superstition that he is in somebody else’s house. He would undoubtedly be freed from this embarrassment if we met in a large hotel, or a larger and even more impersonal tea-shop, or in a public library, or in a post-office, or in the draughty corridors of a tube station. The very names of these places will suggest that richer warmth, that fuller fraternity, that tingling humanity in all human contacts, which comes to men the moment they have abandoned private property. Anyhow, it is unnecessary to extend the list of evidences that Christmas does not fit in with this fuller and more liberated life. Christmas must go. Christmas is utterly unsuited to the great future that is now opening before us. Christmas is not founded on the great communal conception which can only find its final expression in Communism. Christmas does not really help the higher and healthier and more vigorous expansion of Capitalism. Christmas cannot be expected to fit in with modern hopes of a great social future. Christmas is a contradiction of modern thought. Christmas is an obstacle to modern progress. Rooted in the past, and even the remote past, it cannot assist a world in which the ignorance of history is the only clear evidence of the knowledge of science. Born among miracles reported from two thousand years ago, it cannot expect to impress that sturdy common sense which can withstand the plainest and most palpable evidence for miracles happening at this moment. Dealing with matters purely psychic, it naturally has no interest for psychologists; having been the moral atmosphere of millions for more than sixteen centuries, it is of no interest to an age concerned with averages and statistics. It is concerned with the happiest of births and is the chief enemy of Eugenics; it carries along with it a tradition of voluntary virginity, yet it contains no really practical hints for compulsory sterilization, At every point it is found to be in opposition to that great onward movement, by which we know that ethics will evolve into something that is more ethical and free from all ethical distinctions. Christmas is no 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.

But why go on piling up the praises of Christmas? All its gifts and glories are externally symbolized in that fact already sufficiently summarised; that it is a nuisance to all the people talking the particular nonsense of our own time. It is an irritation to all men who have lost their instincts; which is very truly the intellectual equivalent of losing their senses. It is a perpetual annoyance to the cads who are not only captains of industry, but captains of information and international news, and everything else in the present paradise of cads. It is a challenge to caddishness, because it reminds us of a more gracious world of courtesy; and of customs which assumed a sort of dignity in human relations. It is a puzzle to pedants whose cold hatred involves them in a continual contradiction; who are distracted between denouncing Christmas because it is a Mass, or purely Popish mummery, and trying to prove at the same time that it is entirely heathen, and was once as admirable as everything else invented by the pirates of heathen Scandinavia. It stands up unbroken and baffling; for us one thing, for them a confusion of inconsistencies; and it judges the modern world. Christmas must go. It is going. In fact it is going strong.

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