Christmas culture – Is it just a fairytale?

Christmas was one of the happiest times of the year for our family during the 1950s. A multitude of 1950s kids will tell you the same. It was not just cutting down a Christmas (pine) tree in the nearby bush, dragging it home, decorating it, hanging streamers all around the lounge room and putting out a plate of Christmas cake and a bottle of beer for Santa (next morning there were just crumbs where the Christmas cake had been). It was not just the expectation of presents, the waking up at the crack of dawn, dragging half-asleep parents to the filled pillow slips hanging over the backs of a line of six chairs, and the family gathering around Christmas dinner. Looking back, it was as much the story of the first Christmas and celebrating that great Church feast at Christmas Mass early on Christmas morning.

The pristine primordial aura created by the reverent silence of the people during Mass, the glowing candles in their brass holders, the priest in ancient vestments bent over in prayer, our liturgical language just above a whisper while the congregation followed the ritual in their missals, the baby in the manger at the back of the church – it all filled my mind with the mystery and reality of that event. It was a reinforcement of the faith that was never doubted.

Of course, we all know now that the people who supervise and have control of the nation’s media will seize the opportunity each Christmas to abuse and ridicule Christmas and Christians for believing in what could only be at best a fairytale and at worst the creation of a malignant band of bourgeois oppressors who want to hold the people in ignorance. Some get so riled by the religious celebrations that there seems no limits to their offensiveness, half the offensiveness of which would incite the frenzied invocation of the anti-discrimination legislation if were about homosexuals and the many recently manufactured ‘genders’.

The many half-baked philosophers of the Left who constantly preach their religion of materialism at us will tell us that the Christmas story could never be true. It simply would not accord with scientific observation. I leave aside a problem of logic here (matters of fact can always be otherwise) and what I have pointed out many times – that materialism cannot in its own terms be proven. Let me rather reproduce an excerpt from what is one of the greatest novels ever written, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.

In the following passage Sebastian responds in his characteristic manner to Charles’s cynicism about Catholic belief with a key point about how we know what we know. It is a key point (reproduced here simply) that has been the subject of serious philosophical disquisition. You see, some of the greatest philosophers say that it is nonsensical and the product of overweening human pride to reduce all knowledge to man’s observation of the material. There are different modes of knowledge depending on the matter in question.

Brideshead Revisited

From Book 1: Et in Arcadia Ego, Chapter 4

[Charles]…Sebastian’s faith was an enigma to me at the time, but not one which I felt particularly concerned to resolve…

Often almost daily, since I had known Sebastian, some chance word in his conversation had reminded me that he was Catholic, but I took it as a foible, like his teddy-bear. We never discussed the matter until the second Sunday at Brideshead, when Father Phipps had left us and we sat in the colonnade with the papers, he surprised me by saying: ‘Oh dear, it’s very difficult being a Catholic.’

‘Does it make much difference to you?’

‘Of course, all the time.’

‘Well, I can’t say I have noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don’t seem much more virtuous than me.’

‘I’m very, very much wickeder,’ said Sebastian indignantly.

‘Well, then?’

‘Who was it used to pray, “O God, make me good, but not yet”?’

‘I don’t know. You, I should think.’

‘Why, yes, I do, every day. But it isn’t that.’ He turned back to the pages of the News of the World and said, ‘Another naughty scout-master.’

‘I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?’

‘Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.’

‘But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.’

‘Can’t I?’

‘I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.’

‘Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.’

‘But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.’

‘But I do. That’s how I believe.’

‘And in prayers? Do you think you can kneel down in front of a statue and say a few words, not even out loud, just in your mind, and change the weather; or that some saints are more influential than others, and you must get hold of the right one to help you on the right problem?’

Oh, yes, don’t you remember last term when I took Aloysius and left him behind I didn’t know where. I prayed like mad to St Anthony of Padua that morning, and immediately after lunch there was Mr Nichols at Canterbury Gate with Aloysius in his arms, saying I’d left him in his cab.’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘if you can believe all that and you don’t want to be good, where’s the difficulty about your religion?’

‘If you can’t see, you can’t.’

‘Well, where?’

‘Oh, don’t be a bore, Charles. I want to read about a woman in Hull who’s been using an instrument…’

Gerard Wilson