Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The wild rituals of Christmas (Chesterton)

G.K. Chesterton has a chapter in his collection of wildly entertaining essays published as Heretics called "Christmas and the Aesthetes". In it he chides the rationalist "aesthetes" who dismiss religious ritual as so much barbaric and vulgar nonsense, especially the rituals of Christmas. Ironically, in replacing the worship of God with the worship of humanity they killed what is truly human, and in killing God they killed joy. For as GKC states elsewhere: joy "is the gigantic secret of the Christian." (Orthodoxy)

Here are a couple of quotes from that chapter to get your juices flowing in anticipation of our great holiday "holy-day" festival on December 25.

Ritual is really much older than thought; it is much simpler and much wilder than thought. A feeling touching the nature of things does not only make men feel that there are certain proper things to say; it makes them feel that there are certain proper things to do. The more agreeable of these consist of dancing, building temples, and shouting very loud; the less agreeable, of wearing green carnations and burning other philosophers alive. But everywhere the religious dance came before the religious hymn, and man was a ritualist before he could speak.

Men are still in black for the death of God. When Christianity was heavily bombarded in the last century upon no point was it more persistently and brilliantly attacked than upon that of its alleged enmity to human joy. Shelley and Swinburne and all their armies have passed again and again over the ground, but they have not altered it. They have not set up a single new trophy or ensign for the world's merriment to rally to. They have not given a name or a new occasion of gaiety. Mr. Swinburne does not hang up his stocking on the eve of the birthday of Victor Hugo. Mr. William Archer does not sing carols descriptive of the infancy of Ibsen outside people's doors in the snow. In the round of our rational and mournful year one festival remains out of all those ancient gaieties that once covered the whole earth. Christmas remains to remind us of those ages, whether Pagan or Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it. In all the winter in our woods there is no tree in glow but the holly.

Whatever form your Christmas rituals take, I hope they are full of merriment. Merry Christmas!

No comments: