Saturday, December 23, 2006

More Christmas Game

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

To read Gilbert's answer to this, as well as see how he decorates his tree, what he likes about snow, and whether he can ice skate or not (imagine Gilbert ice skating!) click here.

Could you mean before Christmas Day?

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. Up to a certain specific instant you are feeling ordinary and sad; for it is only Wednesday. At the next moment your heart leaps up and your soul and body dance together like lovers; for in one burst and blaze it has become Thursday. I am assuming (of course) that you are a worshipper of Thor, and that you celebrate his day once a week, possibly with human sacrifice. If, on the other hand, you are a modern Christian Englishman, you hail (of course) with the same explosion of gaiety the appearance of the English Sunday. But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally stuck. I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern Christmas ceremonies and publications. Especially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines. The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to a solid anticipation of the turkey which is to come. Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept for Christmas Day. On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper. Whether the leg or arm of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.
[ILN Jan 12 1907 CW27:370-1]

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

With gifts.
Every tree was a Christmas tree bearing gifts...
[The Poet and the Lunatics]

11. Snow?

Ah... snow.

Mr. Oldershaw remembers that on one occasion on a very cold day they filled his pockets with snow in the playground. When class
reassembled, the snow began to melt and pools to appear on the floor. A small boy raised his hand: "Please Sir, I think the laboratory sink
must be leaking again. The water is coming through and falling all over Chesterton."
[Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 22]

Good news: but if you ask me what it is, I know not;
It is a track of feet in the snow,
It is a lantern showing a path,
It is a door set open.

["The Notebook" quoted in Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton 65]

I was riding on an omnibus yesterday and it was snowing hard, when I realised a great idea. It occurred to me that I was very fond of you. I
hasten to communicate this thought. It seems to me strangely true. I can only vaguely hope that were you on the outside of an omnibus
when it was snowing hard (a position which I understand you seek out and enjoy) you might hit upon a parallel truth. It may seem vain and grasping, but I certainly hope a good deal that you don't mind me....
[A letter to Frances, his wife, quoted in Maisie Ward, Return To Chesterton 38]

Myths are not allegories. Natural powers are not in this case abstractions. It is not as if there were a God of Gravitation. There may be a genius of the waterfall; but not of mere falling, even less than of mere water. The impersonation is not of something impersonal. The point is that the personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens; so that snow itself seems to be warm rather than cold. The test therefore is purely imaginative. But imaginative does not mean imaginary. It does not follow that it is all what the moderns call subjective, when they mean false. Every true artist does feel, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic does know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of incantation that can call it up.
[The Everlasting Man CW2:236-7]

12. Can you ice skate?

Yes, in a literary sense:

I can break through the forest of Browning and skate on the thin ice of Henry James, and I once distinctly saw a meaning in one of the poems of one of the French Symbolists.
[ILN March 1, 1913 CW29:454]

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

One of them is distance:

I have found out how to make a big thing small. I have found out how to turn a house into a doll's house. Get a long way off it: God lets us turn all things into toys by His great gift of distance. Once let me see my old brick house standing up quite little against the horizon, and I shall want to go back to it again. I shall see the funny little toy lamp-post painted green outside the gate, and all the dear little people like dolls looking out of the window. For the windows really open in my doll's house.

Another was a shilling paint box:

When I was a child and had a shilling box of water-colours, I used to think that French ultramarine was purely French; I used to think that Prussian blue was really Prussian. Between them I used to make historic fights, such as Sedan or Austerlitz. One colour in the box told a tragedy in itself. It seemed named after the sacking of a splendid Italian town. It was called Burnt Siena.

[ILN Aug 25 1906 CW27:265-6]

14. What's the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you?


The drawing [GKC's cartoon "Bringing in the Bore's Head"] recalls Christmas at Christmas Cottage. The name of their house suggests how much this feast meant to them, the Memory of his many Christmas articles remind us how much it meant to Gilbert. Frances too would break into verse at Christmas and almost no other time, and all their neighbours recall how the two of them would go from house to house with small gifts and great good wishes. On one occasion they both had dinner at Christmas Cottage on Twelfth Night. Clare writes:
We always made a great feature of our table decorations and used to compete with each other to think up new things every year. This particular Christmas the table was a concerted family effort. We made them wait in the hall while we arranged the final dramatic effect. When the door to the dining-room was opened, the room was in darkness except for the firelight. In the middle of the table was a seascape (the big looking-glass from the hall) and a ship in full sail towards a high rocky harbour (representing the cobb at Lyme). On the edge of the harbour wall was a toy lighthouse. A nightlight inside made the windows revolve so that the miniature beams shot through the darkness and lit Up the sea and the ship, its sails full set for home.
We of course expected pleasure and surprise and plenty of appreciation of our labours. What we were not prepared for was G.K.'s reaction. He came in last, being "taken into dinner" by one of us. He said no word at all, but paused in the doorway and stared and stared. And the sister whose arm was in his was stirred out of all proportion and heard herself muttering her thoughts aloud to G.K. (one of his rarest qualities was that one could literally think aloud to him without fear or self-consciousness). "It reminds me," she said, "of the Salve Regina." And G.K. said below his breath, "Yes - nobis, post hoc exsilium ostende..."

[Maisie Ward, Return To Chesterton, 315]

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

Christmas Pudding.

Glancing down a newspaper column I see the following alarming sentence: "The Lancet adds a frightful corollary that the only way to eat Christmas pudding with perfect impunity is to eat it alone." At first the meaning of this sentence deceived me. I thought it meant that the eater of Christmas pudding must be in a state of sacred isolation like an anchorite at prayer. I thought it meant that the presence of one's fellow creatures in some way disturbed the subtle nervous and digestive process through which Christmas pudding was beneficent. It sounded rather mad and wicked, certainly; but not madder or more wicked than many other things that I have read in scientific journals. But on re-reading the passage, I see that my first impression did the Lancet an injustice. The sentence really means that when one eats Christmas pudding one should eat nothing but Christmas pudding. "It is," says the Lancet, "a complete meal in itself." This is, I should say, a question of natural capacity, not to say of cubic capacity. I know a kind of person who would find one Christmas pudding a complete meal in itself, and even a little over. For my own part, I should say that three, or perhaps four, Christmas puddings might be said to constitute a complete meal in themselves.
[ILN Jan 12 1907 CW27:375]

1 comment:

  1. very nice post; it's always a pleasure to read about Chesterton's personality, his remarks, and his beliefs


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