a quite clear black line


Chesterton wrote this piece in 1908 when the small shops with their quaint ways and personal relationships with their customers were starting to give way to the Big Shops (The Outline of Sanity, 1926) and Capitalism ( Utopia of Usurers, 1917). Selling and advertising became the focus rather than providing a personable service to the townsfolk.

Part of that was “selling” Christmas before the day in order to ramp up sales and profit, a practice we take for granted in our day with all of the Christmasy merchandise and the push to sell the idea that we must buy lots of gifts which make the stores lots of money. Indeed, in the beginning and as late of the early 60s there was some vestige of the old spirit in the decorations many looked forward to seeing and the Christmas carols that would play. Now, though, most of the decorations are kept to limited venues and the carols only played on certain stations. The outside of malls and now online sales look the same as they do throughout the year.

But in Chesterton’s day, this push to commercialize Christmas was just becoming a practice. The problem with that as Chesterton mentions in the quote below was that it intruded on the anticipation for what God meant our anticipation of Christmas to be- this glorious good news that:

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

Upon those who lived in a land of gloom

a light has shone.a

You have brought them abundant joy

and great rejoicing;

They rejoice before you as people rejoice at harvest,

as they exult when dividing the spoils. ( Isaiah 9:1-2 )

Instead of anticipating the magic of a Christmas miracle, the stores want us to salivate over their Christmas sales. The Spirit or Christmas is experienced by guarding the “quite clear black line” of Advent time that Chesterton says protects this wonderful moment that wasn’t there before and then suddenly and magnificently bursts upon us out of the darkness of the world with joy and lights!

“But I say that whatever the day is that is to you festive or symbolic, it is essential that there should be a quite clear black line between it and the time going before. And all the old wholesome customs in connection with Christmas were to the effect that one should not touch or see or know or speak of something before the actual coming of Christmas Day. Thus, for instance, children were never given their presents until the actual coming of the appointed hour. The presents were kept tied up in brown-paper parcels, out of which an arm of a doll or the leg of a donkey sometimes accidentally stuck. I wish this principle were adopted in respect of modern Christmas ceremonies and publications. Especially it ought to be observed in connection with what are called the Christmas numbers of magazines. The editors of the magazines bring out their Christmas numbers so long before the time that the reader is more likely to be still lamenting for the turkey of last year than to have seriously settled down to a solid anticipation of the turkey which is to come. Christmas numbers of magazines ought to be tied up in brown paper and kept for Christmas Day. On consideration, I should favour the editors being tied up in brown paper. Whether the leg or arm of an editor should ever be allowed to protrude I leave to individual choice.” – G.K.Chesterton, Christmas, All Things Considered,1908

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