Last year, or maybe the year before, Mama put together an Advent family worship guide for our family using, primarily, George Grant and Greg Wilbur’s book, Christmas Spirit. We’re doing it again this year, and it is really great. I love the way they pull in Christian history and great quotes from historical figures. Last night’s readings were on Christmas traditions, and I wanted to post some excerpts, even while knowing that these traditions are rather controversial in some of my circles.
I’ll start with one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes:
Most sensible people say that adults cannot be expected to appreciate Christmas as much as children appreciate it. But I am not sure that even sensible people are always right; and this has been my principle reason for deciding to be silly – a decision that is now irrevocable. It may be because I am silly, but I rather think that, relatively to the rest of the year, I enjoy Christmas more than I did when I was a child. My faith demands that such be the case. The more mature I become the more I need to embrace the joys of the incarnation. The more mature I become, the more I need to be a child.
I love that.
Here’s a worldview section from the book that I also love (I apologize about the length. I tried to split it up and/or cut it off, but it was all just too good!):
Through the centuries, the traditions associated with Nicholas have proven to be an inducement to steer clear of the twin pitfalls and pratfalls of materialism and asceticism. In the midst of the whirling change of the modern world, we need those traditions more than ever. The efficacy of tradition to offer stability, continuity, and guidance is indubitable. Connections to the past are the only sure leads to the future. Thus the realm of the tradition is not just the concern of historians and social scientists. It is not the lonely domain of political prognosticators and ivory tower academics. It is the very stuff of life. And, in fact, it is the very stiff of faith. Indeed, the Bible put a heavy emphasis on historical awareness – not at all surprising considering the fact that the vast proportion of its own contents record the dealings of God with men and nations throughout the ages. …
Indeed, He believed that remembrance and forgetfulness were the measuring rods of faithfulness throughout the entire canon of Scripture – that is why the Bible makes it plain that there are only two kinds of people in the world: effectual doers and forgetful hearers.
We are enamored of progress. We are living [in] a time when things shiny and new are prized far above things old and timeworn. For most of us, tradition is little more than a quirky and nostalgic sentimentalism. It is hardly more than the droning, monotonous succession of obsolete notions, anachronistic ideals, and antiquarian habits, sound and fury, signifying nothing. Henry Ford called an awareness of history and an appreciation for the past mere “bunk.” Augustine Birrell called it “a dust heap.” Guy de Maupassant dubbed it “that excitable and lying old lady.” But many of the wisest of men and women through the ages have recognized that tradition is a foundation upon which all true advancement must be built – that it is in fact, the prerequisite to all genuine progress.
Stable societies must be eternally vigilant in the task of handing on their great legacy – to remember and then to inculcate that remembrance in the hearts and minds of their children. Alas, any people who did not know their own history, would simply have to endure all the same mistakes, sacrifices, and absurdities all over again.
Sadly, such lessons are very nearly lost on us in the odd to-whom-it-may-concern, instant-everything day of microwavable meals, prefab buildings, bottom-rung bureaucracy, fit-for-the-market education, knee-jerk public misinformation, and predigested formula entertainment. Thus temporary expediencies supersede permanent exigencies.
Christmas traditions, like those that revolve around the character of Nicholas of Myra, may well be abused by modern marketers and commercial concerns. But they can also be powerful inducements to remember the things which matter most. They can be the means by which beauty, goodness, and truth come to prevail in our homes, our communities, and our land.
And so, with that, I will decorate. I will celebrate. I will remember.