“What Christmas Means to Me,” by C.S. Lewis.
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 fist, 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
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) flps
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.
From “God in the Dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics” by C. S. Lewis.