I was moved to write this after reading a number of snarky Christmas comments by Facebook friends and writer buddies, and after struggling through Christmas shopping crowds. Yes, the festive season can get on your case with the way it jams you up against family and strangers. But know what? That could say more about you than it says about the commercialization of Christmas.

G.K. Chesterton tackled the issue just over 100 years ago in Heretics, his brilliant, penetrating series of essays on other contemporary intellectual figures “whose view of things has the hardihood to differ from mine.” In “Christmas and the Aesthetes,” he critiqued the general intellectual hostility of his time to all holidays involving ceremony, ritual, and custom, and especially the opposition to Christmas.  “In the round of our rational and mournful year one festival remains out of all those ancient gaieties that once covered the whole earth. Christmas remains to remind us of those ages, whether Pagan or Christian, when the many acted poetry instead of the few writing it. In all the winter in our woods there is no tree in glow but the holly.” He also hit at the contemporary neo-pagan revivals of supposed pre-Christian celebrations when there was one right there, celebrated by the entire population.

It is painful to regard human nature in such a light, but it seems somehow possible that Mr. George Moore does not wave his spoon and shout when the pudding is set alight. It is even possible that Mr. W. B. Yeats never pulls crackers. If so, where is the sense of all their dreams of festive traditions? Here is a solid and ancient festive tradition still plying a roaring trade in the streets, and they think it vulgar. if this is so, let them be very certain of this, that they are the kind of people who in the time of the maypole would have thought the maypole vulgar; who in the time of the Canterbury pilgrimage would have thought the Canterbury pilgrimage vulgar; who in the time of the Olympian games would have thought the Olympian games vulgar.

Chesterton pins down their objections to intellectual snobbery, which he also links to that detestation of Christmas shopping crowds and the commercialization of Christmas in another essay in the book, “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family,” which delves into the modern cult of retreat from society, the “luxurious anchorite,” and the Nietzschean cult of the Superman – and which also just happens to be one of the best thumbnail dissections of Fascism ever penned:

Nietzsche, who represents most prominently this pretentious claim of the fastidious, has a description somewhere—a very powerful description in the purely literary sense—of the disgust and disdain which consume him at the sight of the common people with their common faces, their common voices, and their common minds. As I have said, this attitude is almost beautiful if we may regard it as pathetic. Nietzsche’s aristocracy has about it all the sacredness that belongs to the weak. When he makes us feel that he cannot endure the innumerable faces, the incessant voices, the overpowering omnipresence which belongs to the mob, he will have the sympathy of anybody who has ever been sick on a steamer or tired in a crowded omnibus. Every man has hated mankind when he was less than a man. Every man has had humanity in his eyes like a blinding fog, humanity in his nostrils like a suffocating smell. But when Nietzsche has the incredible lack of humour and lack of imagination to ask us to believe that his aristocracy is an aristocracy of strong muscles or an aristocracy of strong wills, it is necessary to point out the truth. It is an aristocracy of weak nerves.

And that objection to being forced up against people you don’t like? “The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is old, like the world.”

So is the crowd-hating anti-commercialist of today that different from the people-hating authoritarian and proto-Fascist of yesterday? Look in your hearts at Christmas and ask yourselves if you really object to Christmas on principle – or just need stronger nerves.


  1. Paul,

    I hope this email finds you doing well. I am currently editing a book on G.K. Chesterton and Christmas. Where did you find the picture on this post, the one of the Chesterton ornament? I would like to use it for the cover of the book. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.


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