An annual symptom of our lunatic condition

C. S. Lewis wrote that there are three things that go around by the name “Christmas”.

The first is a religious festival, important to Christians and not really to anyone else. The second is a popular holiday, a time of hospitality and general merry-making. The third is, in Lewis’ words, “a commercial racket”, which he said was “forced on us by the shopkeepers”. It is primarily the third thing which annoyed Lewis, and which he condemned, giving the following reasons:

1) “It gives on the whole more pain than pleasure.” Pay attention, he wrote, to the family who tries to “keep” Christmas in this commercial sense. They are soon worn out by the effort of finding gifts and remembering everyone they need to give gifts to. Come Christmas, “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 the house.”

2) “Most of it is involuntary.” Lewis decries the modern rule that you have to give a gift to everyone who gives an (unprovoked) gift to you. “It is almost blackmail.”

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.”

4) “The nuisance.” The whole thing, he writes, triples the trouble of all the normal work of life (like everyday shopping trips), that we already have to do.

He concludes (again, writing in England in 1957!):

“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?”

The whole essay is found in God in the Dock.


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