Reflections December 2009—Christmas Reflections

December 2009

Christmas Reflections, A revised reprint from December 2003

.S. Lewis held Christmas in high esteem; however, he had a clear disdain for the commercialism that choked the holiday season. Although written over 50 years ago, his insights are remarkably prescient:

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a “view” on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business.

I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to “keep” it (in its third, or commercial aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out—physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the
unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
3. Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself—gaudy and useless gadgets, “novelties” because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.

We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why better for nothing than for a nuisance.1

The mad rush of Christmas season is upon us once again. And since Lewis wrote, things have gotten much worse. Between the frenzy of Black Friday and the collapse of Christmas Day lies an amazing gauntlet of obstacles and stress-filled busyness perfectly suited to obliterate the true meaning of Christmas from our consciousness. On strained budgets, we must now race to find the perfect gifts for everyone amid vexing traffic, crowded stores, long lines, and rude clerks, all the while breathlessly rushing from one party to the next each night of the week and somehow preparing for the perfect Christmas dinner along the way.

For the sake of our souls, perhaps we should consider a minimalist approach to the Christmas season. Maybe we could give fewer gifts, spend less money, and attend fewer parties. With less stress and more time, we could relax, read, and meditate on the Incarnation of the Son of God, worship him, actually enjoy time with our family, and look for ways to help the poor. In other words, we could actually celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

…you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary…
LUKE 10:41b-42a (NASB)

 

1 C.S. Lewis, “What Christmas Means To Me,” God in the Dock (Grand Rapids. MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 304-305.


© 2013 C.S. Lewis Institute. “Reflections” is published monthly by the C.S. Lewis Institute.
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