Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas--last of the game

Merry Christmas from the American Chesterton Society. We wish you and yours all the blessings of the day.

Now here are Gilbert's answers to the remaining questions of the Christmas game.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Any guesses? click here.

Celebrating Christmas on December 25 - which is a tradition.

I cannot see why a similar shifting of numerals should make the legend of Christmas cease to be Christian. For that matter, it would probably be easy to find examples of traditions that really did turn upon errors of detail. [...historical details about Trafalgar, Bastille Day, the Primrose League, and the changes resulting from the dates of these events being altered upon new discoveries...] But these images are in no way more absurd than the image of Santa Claus ceasing to be a Christian saint quite suddenly, because some Higher Critic has told Mr. Arnold Bennett that Christ may not have been born on Dec. 25. The tradition of Trafalgar exists, whatever be its date; the French Revolution is a fact of gigantic range, whenever it began; even the
Primrose League would be a fact in its way, although it were also a fiction. And considered in the coldest sense of secular history, Christmas is a fact, and could not possibly be dissociated from the
two words that make it up. But there is another fact, equally obvious from a secular and even sceptical standpoint. You cannot select a particular day without selecting a particular subject. You cannot have a day devoted to everything; it is contradicted by the very word devotion. You cannot have a festival dedicated to things in general; it is contradicted by the very idea of dedication. No religion, so far as I know, has ever had a Feast of the Universe; and Robespierre did not really get very far even with a Feast of the Supreme Being. It is too simple to be sensational; and a festival must be a sensation. A man will not be happy about all things, except in the sense in which he can be happy on all days. To produce the special psychological condition called rejoicing it is necessary to have something to rejoice over; something that can be hailed like a signal or received like a message. Hence, apart from anything else, any attempt to generalise a thing like Christmas is at war with a fact of human nature.
[ILN Dec 30 1922 CW32:512-14]

17. What tops your tree?

The house Frances and I live in:

Now, as Gilbert was reading to Frances and Mildred, he suddenly broke off and, looking across at the opposite field, said: "I would like to build a house on that field." Frances said: 'Well, why shouldn't you, when we have the money?" Gilbert went on: "I should like to build it around that tree." Not long afterwards, they bought the field, and first the studio, later the house, was actually built around the trunk of the tree he had chosen. Thus Top Meadow came to be - the Chesterton's home for the rest of their lives...
[Maisie Ward, Return To Chesterton 127]

I cannot recall what Frances used last year, whether it was a Star or an angel, or just a candle. But your question reminds me of something someone asked me about Germany, recalling the difficulties of the 1914-1918 War, and expressing concern about her future: does not love experts; especially experts in poison-gas. One may fear them, and, in consequence, one may fight them. But international idealists are even now talking of Germany as the land of science and industry and technical improvement. Now Germany is not as bad as all that. It has temptations of barbarism, and especially of mythology, but it has touches of the better mythology which is not a myth. My examples of small things would doubtless sound very small indeed. Summoned before the International Peace Conference, I should cause general disappointment if I said: "The Germans have produced one particular kind of Christmas Card which is unlike anything in the world. It really mingles the natural mystery of the forests with the preternatural mystery of the Christmas tree, and truly sets the Star of Bethlehem in a northern sky. To look at the best of these little pictures is to feel at once like a man who has received a sacrament and a child who has heard the whole of a fairy-tale. And when I look at those queer little coloured pictures, full of a sort of holy goblins, I know there is something in Germany that can be loved, and that perhaps is not yet lost."
[ILN May 5, 1934; thanks to Frank Petta and my mother]

18. Which do you prefer - giving or receiving?

I prefer thanking, for thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder [A Short History of England]

The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom. Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to Santa Claus when he put in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs? We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?
[Orthodoxy CW1:258]

But you raise an important matter, to which I must also respond:

It is more blessed to give than to receive; which an artist will always tend to translate as meaning that it us better to create even than to criticise. The curse that withers the world, in our particular period and state of culture, is that ordinary people do not give what they used to give or crate what they once created. They do nothing but receive; at the best they are critics, and at the worst very uncritical. The Wireless and the Cinema, the newspaper and the newsreel, a score of such enormous modern machines of publicity, pour down their throats, or into their ears and minds, a flood of suggestion in which they have no co-operation, which they do not criticise, and to which they cannot reply. The old output of popular opinion, which came from the talk in the tavern, and began even with the tales in the nursery, has been reversed and silenced; and Governments are ready to give anything and everything, if they can only be reassured with the soothing certainty that the people will give nothing. But I believe that Men, whether or no they were meant to be Masters, were at least all meant to be Makers; or something more like it than that.
[ILN Sept 8 1934; thanks to Frank Petta and my mother]

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?

Well, (Ahem, Frances, my dear, you won't mind my mentioning... no? Thanks, my dear.) Frances permits me to tell you that it is her very own "How far is it to Bethlehem?"; but of course there are so many others...

There is a grand and even gigantic gusto, which is never found in modern moral and religious poetry, or only very seldom, and in people of the same tradition. The good news seems to be not only really good but really new. It is hailed with a sort of shout, not with a mere chorus of congratulation, like a recognised occasion of rejoicing. One of the carols has for a sort of rowdy refrain the more or less meaningless halloo of "Ut hoy!" Even in reading it on a printed page after five hundred years, it is impossible not to have a sort of illusion that we are hearing the loud but distant hail of some hearty shepherd far away upon the hills. If it is ever sung, that chorus can hardly be sung too loud. I will not attempt to inquire here why the mediaeval carol, as distinct from the modern hymn, could manage to achieve the resounding reality of that shout. I should be inclined to suggest that some part of it [226] may have been due to men really believing that there was something to shout about. But certainly the spirit of Christmas is in these songs more than in any other literature that has since been produced; and if I am forbidden by good taste to express myself in theological terms, I will confine myself to saying in a loud voice, "Ut hoy!"
[ILN Dec 25 1926 CW34:225-6]

20. Candy canes?

I am not familiar with this form of sweet; ah, perhaps you mean a treat associated with Christmas...

A play may be as bitter as death, or as sweet as sugar-candy, it matters nothing - but a play must be a treat. It must be something which a mob of Greek savages, a thousand years ago, might, in some ruder form, have uttered passionately in praise of the passionate god of wine. The moment we begin to talk about a theatre or a theatrical entertainment as "dissecting life", as a "moral analysis", as an "application of the scalpel"; the moment, in short, that we talk of it as if it were a lecture, that moment we lose our hold on the thin thread of its essential nature.
["The Meaning of the Theatre" in Lunacy and Letters]

...the cave has not been so commonly or so clearly used as a symbol as the other realities that surrounded the first Christmas. And the reason for this also refers to the very nature of that new world. It was in a sense the difficulty of a new dimension. Christ was not only born on the level of the world, but even lower than the world. The first act of the divine drama was enacted, not only on no stage set up above the sight-seer, but on a dark and curtained stage sunken out of sight; and that is an idea very difficult to express in most modes of artistic expression. It is the idea of simultaneous happenings on different levels of life. Something like it might have been attempted in the more archaic and decorative medieval art. But the more the artists learned of realism and perspective, the less they could depict at once the angels in the heavens and the shepherds on the hills, and the glory in the darkness that was under the hills. Perhaps it could have been best conveyed by the characteristic expedient of some of the medieval guilds, when they wheeled about the streets a theatre with three stages one above the other, with heaven above the earth and hell under the earth.

But in the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the earth.

[The Everlasting Man CW2:305]

The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down.
[The Everlasting Man CW2:187]

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