I wish everyone on the old calendar a joyous feast on the synaxis of the Theotokos.
Though Christmastide has just begun on the Julian calendar, it has ended on the Gregorian one. While I was home for the holidays, I celebrated Western Christmas with my folks and witnessed the annual tradition of holiday blues in many lives. Christmas brings pain for some people, and I wondered why such was.
Of course, these afflicted souls think of Christmastimes past, of loved ones dead and gone. Memory is inherently painful, as it inevitably makes us deal with mortality and loss. These holiday blue-sers also lament that the holidays of their childhood were not as beautiful as those idealized Courier and Ives scenes, and they remain bitter about the fact. Mortal man, who always complains about the imperfection of the world, never becomes comfortable with his fate. Yet, what is it about holidays—and especially Christmas—that facilitates this sort of perverse nostalgia?
While pondering this question, I thought about Lewis’ musings on the seasons. Man is a temporal creature subject to change, and yet his spirit craves and touches the eternal. Such a creature is a mixed being and, as such, requires a mixed existence. Darwinists might gasp in horror at such anthropocentrism, but seasonal changes on earth do suit wonderfully such a creature. For man seeks the changeless and the new at the same time, and the cycle of seasons fulfills, to some extent, both needs. Each revolution of the year brings the old and familiar that is yet new and different. The seasonal cycle itself induces man’s tendency to think through time beyond the present. As we tend not to know the future, this gaze beyond the present moment makes us think of the past. Thus, the celebration of seasonal holidays inherently entices us toward nostalgia. Each Christmas is a reminder of past Christmas celebrations. Resemblance and association play parts, obviously, but I think that the seasonal system accounts for the much stronger connection in our minds between the holiday of the present and the holidays of the past.
Dickens’ famous morality play, A Christmas Carol, features the temporal relational aspect of Christmas in its plot. I wonder if Dickens entertained similar thoughts about seasonal holidays. I suppose that it is possible, too, that modern, industrialized Anglophones who live in the moment without much thought or loyalty to history or tradition might be more tenderly sensitive to this seasonal aspect—though our condition is spreading to all peoples and places. For our societies have forsaken the ancient rhythm of previous civilizations that were thoroughly mindful of the seasons, of the connections of the present to the past and to the future, and of the relationship between the immanent and transcendent. Our secularized, horizontal world view divorces us from such relations, and our technology allows us more ability to ignore the seasons. Thus, when we choose to enter into the cycle in holiday celebrations, we might be more struck by what we see than other men in other times who lived continually in such a state. Perhaps, that is why one who grew up in industrialized, Victorian England might focus so on Christmas past, present, and future and why we Americans have always found the work meaningful.
Merry Christmas to all, and “God bless us, every one.”