Let the Yule-Blogging Begin!!!
On this day we shut out Nothing!
“Pause,” says a low voice. “Nothing? Think!”
“On Christmas Day, we will shut out from our fireside, Nothing.”
“Not the shadow of a vast City where the withered leaves are lying deep?” the voice replies. “Not the shadow that darkens the whole globe? Not the shadow of the City of the Dead?”
Not even that. Of all days in the year, we will turn our faces towards that City upon Christmas Day, and from its silent hosts bring those we loved, among us. City of the Dead, in the blessed name wherein we are gathered together at this time, and in the Presence that is here among us according to the promise, we will receive, and not dismiss, thy people who are dear to us!
The preceding was brought to you by our sponsor–Charles Dickens… It’s from one of the great op-ed pieces of all time, What Christmas is as we Grow Older, which first appeared in Household Words in 1851. I encourage you all to read it, if you have the time (it’s only a few pages long). It contains multitudes, and I’ll be taking my cues from it from now until the 25th…
It’s often said that Dickens invented Christmas as we know it, in the Anglo-American world, and even 19th-century hating curmudgeons like Wyndham-Lewis, editor of A Christmas Book: An Anthology For Moderns, would not have disputed this fact, no matter how much they deplored it (on second thought, it’s probably more accurate to say that they were happy to allow the plebes to keep “Christmas in their own (Dickensian) way”–it gave avant-garde hipsters one more reason to feel superior… speaking of which, Sean Collins has some thoughts re:the hipster ethos). If you’re interested in reading a thorough account of the transformation of the holiday from a time of debaucherous mumming into the sentimental occasion it has become, I recommend you check out Penne Restad’s Christmas In America: A History, but for my purposes, I think it suffices to say that Dickens had a lot to do with it.
And yet, I think the man would be appalled by the use we’ve made of his gift. Now wait a minute–this is not going to be one of those “commericalization of Christmas” diatribes! Personally, I’m thrilled when the lights and decorations go up at department stores all over town (the only time I ever set foot within those buildings is on my dinner-breaks in December) and you begin hearing carols on the radio (it’s better than Britney, donchathink?). Maybe I’m immune to the “commercialization complaint” because, unlike Alan David Doane, I don’t have any disposable income, and people don’t ever expect anything from me… But I don’t think that’s it–I really don’t see anything wrong with the Christmas/commerce interface, and, as I’m sure many of you are aware, some of our most cherished holiday traditions are the brain-children of the advertizing industry.
My seasonal pet peeve concerns the gradual “etherealization” of the “Christmas Spirit”. Here’s Dickens’ definition of that term:
And is our life here, at the best, so constituted that, pausing as we advance at such a noticeable mile-stone in the track as this great birthday, we look back on the things that never were, as naturally and full as gravely as on the things that have been and are gone, or have been and still are? If it be so, and so it seems to be, must we come to the conclusion that life is little better than a dream, and little worth the loves and strivings that we crowd into it?
No! Far be such miscalled philosophy from us, dear Reader, on Christmas Day! Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance! It is in the last virtues especially, that we are, or should be, strengthened by the unaccomplished visions of our youth; for, who shall say that they are not our teachers to deal gently even with the impalpable nothings of the earth!
Dickens is sentimental, I suppose, in that he prefers to think of human nature as basically good, but he is also hard-nosed as hell about facing the fact that our dreams don’t count for much when measured against realities. Think about that for a second–this isn’t some stodgy schoolmaster saying these things, this is Charles Dickens, a man whose name is synonymous with the power of the imagination! You can be sure that he understood the heart’s yearnings, but he also understood the mathematical expression: World > Desire.
We’ve lost that sense, in our culture, I think. We take it for granted that our desires were meant to be satisfied–and hey, I’ve got no problem with satisfaction, when it comes my way, but I think we would do well to remember that our drives exist to compel us to pay attention to other people, other people do not exist to validate our drives. We’ve turned Christmas into a neverland in which every wish is granted, a collective hallucination which is maintained by a “spirit” which is merely “the will to believe” in seasonal garb. It’s very easy to concoct a philosophy which makes sense of even the greatest attrocities, if you remain committed to the proposition that everything is really one thing, and nothing is ever lost. The human mind is remarkable for its’ ability to construct systems, and to believe in them–but every rationalization is a quiet murder. Is this what Christmas is about now?–have we lost the ability to distinguish an autistic grin from an authentic smile born of goodwill? I hope not!
Anyway, this month I’ll be dealing with some of the aspects of our common Christmas inheritance that have helped to make it my favourite time of year–it’s not a best-of list, or anything like that, it’s more like a map of the ground that I stand (humbly) upon. I hope you’ll be here to chart it with me!
And remember–“we shut out Nothing!”
Tomorrow: Christmas with the Super-Heroes
Good night friends