A blog dedicated to providing quotes by and posts relating to one of the most influential (and quotable!) authors of the twentieth century, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). If you do not know much about GKC, I suggest visiting the webpage of the American Chesterton Society as well as this wonderful Chesterton Facebook Page by a fellow Chestertonian

I also have created a list detailing examples of the influence of Chesterton if you are interested, that I work on from time to time.

(Moreover, for a list of short GKC quotes, I have created one here, citing the sources)

"...Stevenson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility."

-Heretics (1905)

Friday, December 31, 2021

"The New War on Christmas"

G.K.'s Weekly
December 26, 1925

Christmas, which in the seventeenth century had to be saved from gloom, in the twentieth century has to be saved from frivolity. The alternative need will seem natural enough if we picture any really poetical combination, as in any of the great Christmas pictures. If a man paints a rich blue sky with a single star blazing white above Bethlehem, the picture is just as much spoilt if you whitewash it and leave it all blank as if you paint out the star and leave it all blue. If there is some glowing Gothic window showing the Three Kings in the flamboyant hues of their holy heraldry, it is just as much lost whether you darken the window and turn it into a wall or smash the window and let in a white glare and a wind of winter. The dancing angels in the medieval picture will be equally limited whether you clip their wings or lame their feet; and the boy bishop ceases even to be amusing if there are no bishops except boys. Christmas, like so many other Christian and Catholic creations, is a wedding. It is the wedding of the wilder spirit of human enjoyment with the higher spirit of humility and the mystical sense. And the parallel of a wedding holds good in more ways than one; because this new danger which threatens Christmas is the same that has long vulgaried and vitiated weddings. It is quite right that there should be pomp and popular rejoicing at a wedding; I do not in the least agree with those who would have it a purely private and personal thing like a proposal or engagement. If a man is not proud of getting married, what is he proud of, and why in the name of nonsense is he getting married at all? But in the normal way all this merry-making is subordinate to the marriage; because it is in honour of the marriage. People came there to be married and not to be merry; and they are merry because they did. But in the snobbish society wedding the serious purpose is entirely lost sight of, and nothing remains but frivolity. For frivolity is trying to rejoice with nothing to rejoice over. The result is that at last even the frivolity as frivolity begins to fail. People who began by coming together only for fun end by doing it only for fashion; and there is no more even of faint suggestion of fun but only of fuss. 

Similarly people are losing the power to enjoy Christmas through identifying it with enjoyment. When once they lost sight of the old suggestion that it is all about something, they naturally fall into blank pauses of wondering what it is all about. To be told to rejoice on Christmas Day is reasonable and intelligible, if you understand the name, or even look at the word. To be told to rejoice on the twenty-fifth of December is like being told to rejoice at a quarter-past eleven on Thursday week. You cannot suddenly be frivolous unless you believe there is a serious reason for being frivolous. A man might make a feast if he had come into a fortune; and he might make a great many jokes about the fortune. But he would not do it if the fortune were a joke. He would not be so hilarious if his benefactor, with similar hilarity, had left him bundles of bad bank-notes or a cheque book of which all the cheques would be dishonoured. The testator's action, however playful, would not be long an occasion of social festivities and celebrations; nor would the April foolery be so permanent as Christmas fun You cannot even start a lark about a legacy you believe to be a sham legacy. You cannot start a lark to celebrate a miracle you believe to be a sham miracle. The result of dismissing the divine side of Christmas and demanding only the human, is that you are demanding too much of human nature. You are asking men to illuminate the town for a victory that has not taken place; or which they believe to be the lie of some Jingo journal. You are asking them to go mad with romantic joy because two people they like are being married, at the moment when they are being divorced. 

Our modern task therefore is to save festivity from frivolity. That is the only way in which it will ever again become festive. Children still understand the feast of Christmas, they still sometimes feast to excess in the matter of plum pudding or a turkey. But there is never anything in the last [least?] frivolous about their attitude to a plum pudding or a turkey. Still less is there anything frivolous in their attitude to a stocking or a Christmas tree. They have the serious and even solemn sense of the great truth; that Christmas is a time when things happen; things that do not always happen. But even in children that sanity is in some sense at war with society. The vivid magic of that night and day is being killed by the vulgar levity of all the other three hundred and sixty four days. For this is the age in which everybody incessantly talks about psychology and nobody apparently thinks about it. Surely it is the very alphabet of psychology that a child will look more closely at one Christmas tree than if it stood in a forest of Christmas trees. Surely even a modern psychologist might know enough of his subject to know that one Father Christmas (whether detected to be Uncle William or not) is more exciting than a regiment of Father Christmases all standing in a row and all looking exactly alike. Yet the moderns are making the whole regiment of the three hundred and sixty five days look exactly alike, even if they are disguising them all in the same frivolous masquerade. They might at least establish one holiday in the year; one wild and hilarious holiday on which nobody could dance. 

The battle against this barbaric blunder in psychology is especially joined in Ireland; and the chances are that the newspapers will talk great nonsense about it in England. There have been several signs lately that Ireland intends to be really independent; that is, that Ireland intends to be really Irish; and in nothing so much as in a greater restraint in the interpretation of revelry. It is something of a satire that Ireland was always taunted with being dependent on America. And now Ireland alone is making some attempt to be independent of America, while England is allowing herself to be more and more Americanised. The hard and brassy hedonism and heathenry of New York will have far less chance in Dublin than in London or Liverpool. The Irish are already appealing against jazz and jingle to the tradition of their old national dances, which are comparatively formal and even full of solemnity. The root of the difference is doubtless religious, like everything else; but our Americanised journalists will make another of their native howlers if they imagine that the protest is merely what they would call "clerical." Dignity is deep in the Irish blood and bone; as a priest once said to me, "The Irish have the passion of distinction." It is because the Irishman is an Irishman, and not only because he is a Catholic, that he would always have objected to a young woman in tights and a top-hat becoming the only form of national entertainment. I remember hearing Mr. W.B. Yeats, who is certainly neither a clerical nor a Puritan, saying in a voice of deep indignation: "I hope to see the day when there shall be fights in the street over the attempt to force on our people the vulgarity of the cosmopolitan theatre." It is not impossible that his hope may be realised. 

The English Christmas was quite as noble and national a thing as the Irish dance. It was not quite so dignified a thing because it was English and not Irish; but it was, in its very intense and intimate essence, innocent. The whole glory and gaiety of the thing collapses at a touch of anything that is not innocent. Anybody ought to be able to see that, as a mere fact of artistic unity and atmosphere, however much he may himself have lost his innocence; he ought to be able to see what sort of words or suggestions would in fact spoil an old English Carol or spoil a Dickens' story. And those are exactly the elements of that atmosphere that is coming upon us like a roaring and reeking gas out of the yawning and glaring furnace of the new frivolity. It poisons the popular instinct for pleasure, which triumphed in the old popular feasts. It is, very truly, the pace that kills. 

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