Mere Christmas - C.S. Lewis on the Heart of Christmas ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mere Christmas - C.S. Lewis on the Heart of Christmas

I'm a sucker for aesthetics, and I love candles, music, and the smell of a basalm fir--and that's not even touching the deepest reason for joy as Christmas approaches. I love Christmas, but I've sometimes wondered if people who come late to the deeper joy of Christmas might love it even more. Hard to say, but C.S. Lewis was one of those people. His slow journey from atheism via mythology to Christianity made Lewis a man who almost missed out on Christmas entirely.

Lewis' perspective on Christmas is first acerbic, then reverent. He criticizes the materialistic excesses of the season scathingly, but this is like cleansing the palate so that one can enjoy the feast that follows. Here's Lewis lampooning "Christmas" materialism in a little known satirical essay, “Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.” (It can be found in God in the Dock.) He's writing about his own country, Britain (Niatirb), taking aim at Exmas cards in this exerpt:

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs.

And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year.

But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

Sound familiar? (And Lewis is just getting started. Read the whole Xmas and Crissmass essay here.) Lewis goes on to contrast the Exmas participants, who are victimized by the holiday they're purportedly celebrating, with another group of celebrants.

But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child.

Clearly, the question to ask is, Are you celebrating Exmas (complete with the dreaded Exmas Rush), or Crissmas--a yearly sacred "feast," inspired by a "true myth" which has changed the world forever? The adherents of Exmas are exhausted and overextended but the Crissmas worshipers are joyful, with shining faces. Are you rushing or feasting? Are your eyes cloudy or bright?

If you're ready to hear it, Lewis will give you the secret of Crissmas in a single sentence. It's the truth we're all dying to hear, the mythic fact that brings light to all our tired stories. What was it that happened on Crissmas, or Christmas? Lewis writes:

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of
. - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

If we understand the enormous joy of our newfound state as God's children, we can celebrate Christmas instead of draining our bank accounts and wailing. Have you grasped the truth at the heart of Christmas? If not, you're doomed to the drudgery of Exmas. Don't let this season go down that way. Be a worshipper, not merely a card-sender or shopper. C.S. Lewis can help.

For more on C.S. Lewis' Christmas perspective, take a look at Surprised by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and Dante, which has a whole chapter on the topic. See also The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics.

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Will Robison said...

Two C.S. Lewis posts in a row. It must be Crissmas!

Ariel said...

Exactly, my friend. What's Christmas without Lewis? Everyone should read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe this time of year.

Sharone said...

I'm a newcomer to your site (I searched blogger for C.S. Lewis), but I'm already a fan. I've emailed this post to my pastor/father-in-law, who preached a sermon on this very thing two weeks ago. Merry Crissmas!

Ariel said...

Thanks, Sharone. I would've liked to listen in to your father-in-law's sermon, especially if he quoted Lewis... :)


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife