G.K. Chesterton's witty and wonderful wisdom can be found on just about any topic, but one of his favourite subjects was Christmas. Chesteron's gift of bringing together foreign ideas to help understand the profound and simple truths of life are very much needed in our culture today when it comes to Christmas. The celebration of Advent and Christmas was very important to Chesterton as he believed it encapsulated the meaning of Christianity and needed to be both properly reverenced and celebrated.
"There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes, as I am doing in this article. It is the very essence of a festival that it breaks upon one brilliantly and abruptly, that at one moment the great day is not and the next moment the great day is."
Here Chesterton makes the great point of how our leaning towards early celebration of Christmas diminishes and takes away from the true celebration of Christmas. What immediately springs to my mind when reading this passage is the marvellous feeling of Christmas morning when we were children. Waking up full of excitement over a day that is unlike any other all year. Its a momentous feeling. I know my children are young enough that they're pretty impervious to time, days of the week, and even months. They only know what we tell them to prepare for and live blissfully in the moment, enjoying the security of routine yet finding the joy in the everyday. Chesterton reemphasizes the importance on saving all the presents, and secretly purchasing the needs of Christmas to make things special.To wake up and have a day so filled with magic, lights, and yes, presents, must seem amazingly out of the blue to them. What a great way of expressing the goal of our Advent preparation, even for us cynical adults who are inundated with Christmas "music" blaring in every store from the middle of November.
Although Chesterton was a brilliant man, he most definitely was not a mother in charge of the household celebrations and preparations for Christmas. In other words, although this advice is completely apt and insightful, it seems pretty far from reality to today's mom who has a huge list of preparations for the big day in order to make a magical Christmas for everyone. I think its a challenging part of life to be a mother and still cultivate an atmosphere in oneself that accommodates the true excitement and celebration of Christmas, while also cultivating the quiet Advent preparation for our Saviour's birth. It requires tough decisions to balance this truth. Saying no to too many Christmas parties before Christmas, too much shopping, too much noise, too many toys for the kids and maybe simplifying travel, cooking, and decorating. To be a mom and wake up on Christmas day surprised that such a miraculous day has sprung out the would be a modern day miracle, but cultivating a quiet during Advent in an effort to acknowledge the joy of Christmas can be more attainable in small steps and might bring us closer to that same moment of amazement.
But as we should reign in pre-Christmas celebrating, Chesterton warns us to not go to far in the opposite extreme and disregard the essential Christmas traditions we love:
"Of course, all this secrecy about Christmas is merely sentimental and ceremonial; if you do not like what is sentimental and ceremonial, do not celebrate Christmas at all"
Now I don't believe Chesterton is saying that Christmas itself, the birth of Christ and the celebration of the Incarnation, is in any way sentimental, but the festivities and how we celebrate the occasion with all our favourite Christmas trappings is sentimental and ceremonial. I think today many people confuse the season by thinking the practice of Advent, or the secrecy, to be needless and sentimental in a religious way. But in shunning Advent they really shun the practices of Christmas. At the same time Chesterton chides the ever-present Scrooge's who say Christmas is just needless sentimental tradition and that these people shouldn't celebrate Christmas at all.
Chesterton's greatest piece of advice however, comes in challenging our modern society in its eschewing of Christianity and Christ yet still maintaining the outward acknowledgement and pageantry of Christmas which in effect just makes Christmas boring by deriding it of any real meaning:
"There is no mark of the immense weak-mindedness of modernity that is more striking than this general disposition to keep up old forms, but to keep them up informally and feebly. Why take something which was only meant to be respectful and preserve it disresepctfully? Why take something which you could easily abolish as a superstition and carefully perpetuate it as a bore?"
This was written about 100 years ago yet is completely visible in today's society. Isn't society without Christ, without faith, perpetuating Christmas to only make it boring? Doesn't our culture make Christmas just another excuse to shop, consume, entertain ourselves? Our society has taken the good human inclination towards sentimentality and ceremony that should be properly placed at Christmas to a completely disordered place of needless buying, endless noise, and constant entertainment; all of which is done by a society that shuns the person of Christ, the real reason for the season.
But do not be discouraged by our popular society and culture. Chesterton is never dire when issuing these warnings about modern thinking; he never leaves the mind hopeless. He is imploring us to simply not be indifferent to the Christmas season and Advent. We need to actively participate in the season, prepare our hearts, and order our lives towards the real meaning of Christmas, and to celebrate with joy. The proper celebration of Advent and Christmas will not only bring ourselves and families joy, but will also shine Christ's light in our modern culture.