“But when men passed on to the feast of Christmas, it went on for a long time after the feast of Christmas Day. It always went on for a continuous holiday of rejoicing for at least twelve days;” ( Chesterton)
As we journey to the Epiphany that is coming tomorrow (and the Christmas that goes on to Candlemas on February 2) what has God revealed to us? To what wonderful and terrible gift has he opened our eyes and heart?
The answer to those questions must by their nature be both personal and corporate. God reveals Himself to the individual as well as the community and sometimes the messages are the same: the point is that Christmas is only the beginning. We have not come to the end of our journey. Neither had the wise men when they finally reached the star, their epiphany, as later did the Church – they had found their King – God incarnate! But then what?
Then what, indeed! What are we to do when we truly realize that God came down and dwelt with men?
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ” ( John 1:12-15)
In his piece about writing for periodicals about Christmas coming (and with it Epiphany), Chesterton touches on the elusive and revelatory aspect of Christmas, Epiphany and the Christmas that is coming: he muses that we are trying to be “some very beautiful…poetry, round…perfectly impossible stories” or in this case, the perfectly impossible story that God came into the world to live as one of us to save us; that if or when we rush such things or let others dictate by commerce that they are over when they say they are over, we have lost the “beautiful poetry” of Christmas and Epiphany – those very things we are trying to find as the wise men were trying to find, not the star, but what lay under it.
“some very beautiful and rather irrelevant poetry, round a perfectly impossible story about a brother and sister who looked exactly alike. In our more enlightened times, the perfectly impossible stories are printed in magazines a month or two before Christmas has begun at all; and in the hustle and hurry of this early publication, the beautiful poetry is somehow or other left out.” (Chesterton)
In his piece On the Christmas That is Coming, Chesterton warns us that a commercial view of Christmas would take the very gift we all hope to receive: the great holiday itself.
“These lines first appeared some time in Christmas week; thereby violating all the fundamental principles of modern civilization, defying the normal and necessary laws of Christmas Trade, Christmas Sales, Christmas Numbers, Christmas Shopping, and even a great deal of Christmas greeting; in a word, committing the crime of talking about Christmas quite near to Christmas Day. For the curious custom of our time has turned Christmas into a vast anticipation; by turning it into a vast advertisement. Most journalists have to write their Christmas articles somewhere about the last days of their summer holiday; and prepare to launch them at the earliest about the middle of the autumn. They have to stun their imaginations with holly and mistletoe while gazing at the last rose of summer; or call up a vision of falling snowflakes in a forest of falling leaves. It is a rather peculiar feature of modern times; and is connected with other things that are typically modern. It is perhaps mixed up with that spirit of Prophecy, which has made the modern Utopias; and has even led some men to call themselves Futurists, on the quaint supposition that it is possible to be really fond of the future. It is connected with that optimism once romantically expressed in the phrase ‘a good time coming’; which its simpler supporters might perhaps convey in the formula of ‘now we shan’t be long’; which its more sardonic critics might perhaps express in the formula, ‘jam tomorrow; but never jam to-day’. At least, in the matter of the serious prediction of social perfection, it is hardly unfair to say that many would still agree that there is a good time coming; but would find it difficult to agree that now, at this particular moment, we shan’t be long. They would still say that Utopia is coming, as some men say that Christmas is coming; especially when they say it (with a shade of bitterness) about the month of March or April. But, under all the official publicity, it is comparatively rare to say that Christmas is coming, at the very moment when it really is coming. It is perhaps even rarer to say, with a solid and complete satisfaction, that Christmas has come.
For the Futurist fashion of our time has led nearly everybody to look for happiness to-morrow rather than to-day. Thus, while there is an incessant and perhaps even increasing fuss about the approach of the festivities of Christmas, there is rather less fuss than there ought to be about really making Christmas festive. Modern men have a vague feeling that when they have come to the feast, they have come to the finish. By modern commercial customs, the preparations for it have been so very long and the practice of it seems so very short. This is, of course, in sharp contrast to the older traditional customs, in the days when it was a sacred festival for a simpler people. Then the preparation took the form of the more austere season of Advent and the fast of Christmas Eve. But when men passed on to the feast of Christmas, it went on for a long time after the feast of Christmas Day. It always went on for a continuous holiday of rejoicing for at least twelve days; and only ended in that wild culmination which Shakespeare described as Twelfth Night or What You Will. That is to say, it was a sort of Saturnalia which ended in anybody doing whatever he would; and in William Shakespeare writing some very beautiful and rather irrelevant poetry, round a perfectly impossible story about a brother and sister who looked exactly alike. In our more enlightened times, the perfectly impossible stories are printed in magazines a month or two before Christmas has begun at all; and in the hustle and hurry of this early publication, the beautiful poetry is somehow or other left out.” – G. K. Chesterton, On the Christmas that is Coming, Avowals and Denials