Saturday, December 13, 2008

Was C.S. Lewis a Grinch?

There's an excellent little article by C.S. Lewis tucked away near the back of God in the Dock. It is titled simply, "What Christmas Means to Me," and is reprinted from the December 1957 issue of Twentieth Century.

I find the relevance of the insights particularly intriguing. Lewis begins by classifying Christmas into three definitions. First, a "religious festival." Second, as a "popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality." Third, it is "the commercial racket."

Lewis then gives four reasons why he condemns Christmas that is approached as a commercial racket. He argues, "It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure." It's a "nightmare" for those who try to keep up with the commercial expectations of gift buying and giving.

Next, says Lewis, "Most of it is involuntary," meaning, "The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own."

Third, "Things are given as presents which no mortal ever bought for himself -- gaudy and useless gadgets, 'novelties' ... Have we no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?"

Finally, "The nuisance."

But isn't it good for the economy, asks Lewis? Not necessarily: "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."

Was C.S. Lewis a Grinch? Hardly. Remember, he is addressing only one form of Christmas -- what he called "the commercial racket." It is this form of Christmas that is driven by materialism, greed, and motives far removed from the celebration of Christmas as commemorating the birth of Christ.

But the core meaning of Christmas is often overlooked in a secularized culture. Lewis once remarked in a letter (December 29, 1958): "My brother heard a woman on a 'bus say, as the 'bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, 'Oh Lor! They bring religion into everything. Look -- they're dragging it even into Christmas now!" Some people just don't get it.

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