Chesterton on Advent and Christmas

Now Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home

David Mills recent, insightful essay titled Just Wait: Because Waiting Makes It More Fun: A reflection prompted by a mid-Advent fit of grumpiness got me thinking about G.K. Chesterton’s essay The Spirit of Christmas.   Mills rightly laments the imposition of Commercial Christmas into our observance of Advent:

I write suffering my annual -Advent fit of grumpiness, having spent time with a friend who said “Merrrrrry Christmas!” to everyone and having found myself several times sitting at my computer singing Christmas carols because I’d heard them in the grocery store. It makes me grumpy, our culture’s disregard of Advent, though I probably should admit that I enjoy feeling righteously grumpy.

I love the phrase “righteously grumpy,” as it perfectly sums up my feelings on this encroachment of the false Christmas on my attempts to observe Christmas the way the Church asks me to do it.

Nearly 100 years ago, G. K. Chesterton had similar thoughts and observations about the imposition of Commercial Christmas onto the true spirit of the season, in his essay “The Spirit of Christmas, published in his book The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic.  The essays starts off like this:

I have rather rashly undertaken to write of the Spirit of Christmas; and it presents a preliminary difficulty about which I must be candid.  People are very curious nowadays in their way of talking about “the spirit” of a thing.  There is, for example, a particular sort of prig who is always lecturing us about having the spirit of true Christianity, apart from all names and forms.  As far as I can make out, he means the very opposite of what he says.  He means that we are to go on using the names “Christian” and “Christianity,” and so on, for something in which it is quite specially the spirit that is not Christian; something that is a sort of combination of the baseless optimism of an American atheist with the pacifism of a mild Hindoo. In the same way, we read a great deal about the Spirit of Christmas in modern journalism or commercialism; but it is really a reversal of the same kind.  So far from preserving the essentials without the externals, it is rather preserving the externals where there cannot be the essentials.  It means taking two mere material substances, like holly and mistletoe, and spreading them all over huge and homeless cosmopolitan hotels or round the Doric columns of impersonal clubs full of jaded and cynical old gentlemen; or in any other place where the actual spirit of Christmas is least likely to be. But there is also another way in which modern commercial complexity eats out the heart of the thing, while actually leaving the painted shell of it.  And that is the much too elaborate system of dependence on buying and selling, and therefore on bustle and hustle; and the actual neglect of the new things that might be done by the old Christmas

Chesterton goes on to point out a consequence of our contradictory Modern Christmas:

The Christmas season is domestic; and for that reason most people now prepare for it by struggling tramcars, standing in queues, rushing away in trains, crowding despairingly into tea-shops, and wondering when or whether they will ever get home.  I do no know whether some of them disappear for ever in the toy department or simply lie down and die in the tea-rooms; but by the look of them, it is quite likely.  Just before the great festival of the home the whole population seems to have become homeless.

It is astonishing to me how exactly the same Christmas preparations were in Chesterton’s London are to the hustle and bustle of Modern Christmas in our own day, at least in my corner of the USA.

Please enjoy the whole essay here.  Have a blessed Advent!