A Christmas Carol (III): Let Us Keep the Feast

I like giving gifts and I like receiving them.

This must be understood or nothing wonderful can come of this post.

Film versions add them, but gifts are not central to A Christmas Carol . . . feasting is.

Mr. Scrooge gives turkey, a bowl of punch, and the pleasure of his company . . . and charity for the poor. Movie versions add it, but since Dickens helped “invent” Christmas one wonders about “gift giving.”

The Magi gave the Christ child gifts, so my giving gifts on Christmas Day as an outer sign of this mystic reality is appropriate, but not central.

Simply starting this line of thought will make many children shudder: it sounds Scrooge-like. Old Man Reynolds doesn’t want to spend and so “get-off’my-grasses” about gifts: so predictable. There is also the standard holiday rant, quite just actually, about commercialism and greed, but this is not that. Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas to see that done brilliantly before the Supreme Court takes it away from you.

Give all the gifts the Spirit of jollification prods you to give. Don’t be greedy. The problem is not the gifts, but the loss of a fact: for all of us the best and most important gift should be the feasting. 

In my house, the best part of Christmas (at least for me) is the time to play games, talk of past times, and eat the Great Christmas Dinner (with toasts!). I enjoy the people and the food. Why isn’t that the best part of Christmas?

I ask my Dad and he says that in his day (World War II era) it was. He would actually get food as part of his Christmas!

The simplest point is that many of us overindulge on treats year round. We don’t have party food, because our culture allows us to have party food frequently. If this is so, then we might consider that feasting requires fasting and reserve some treats for special times. It really is a good thing. But even that is too shallow to explain the difference and so I recall that Advent was a time of fasting. If a fast comes just before your feast, then the feast is special. This is true, but again misses the point. The fast has its own merits and advantages, we should fast if no feast followed. It is the part of Divine Hedonism that God dollops a party onto our exercise. He delights in pleasure more than our puritan souls can stand.

I think we have forgotten how to enjoy each other’s company.

The more holiday articles I read the more they seem to center on “getting along” with your family. People have fewer clubs, regular church functions, or social events not related to work. Remove forced socialization for money at the office and most of us never have to hang with folk we don’t like . . . except at Holidays. There we are trapped, if that is the right word, with people we must love, but may not like.

And few of us have been taught how to entertain. We think of our own pleasure rather than think how to give pleasure to that difficult and distant Uncle with the odd political views. Of course, the difficult Uncle has not learned to temper his politics for the good of the party! The Golden Rule vanishes in our feasting and so we never choose to feast with those who are not peers. Hipsters are only comfortable with hipsters, nerds with nerds, and no Scrooge would ever look up a Tiny Tim with his irritating piety and shrill little voice.

Such a thing happens to me, no non-academics please, and it makes me smaller. At a feast everyone in the family is invited. You will note that dancing and game playing feature in all the feasts to help smooth the way. A game, such as the Ministers Cat, gives everyone something to do. Game playing that is not solitary on a phone is, of course, another dying art.

We celebrate the Coming of the Christ Child, but I wonder if we haven’t forgotten how to celebrate. Mary welcomed Shepherds and eventually Magi without choosing her gifts. Worship of the Baby gave them a unity of purpose, but that unity of worship is also being lost when we find people going to church without references to geography and with a focus on their friends.

If we don’t like them, we don’t learn to love them.

Love is, however, commanded and like is not. It is fine to like some better than others, but not to love only those you like. All of us need to learn the deeper things, but I fear even marriage we bond with those we powerfully like (sexually, romantically, and personally) and never learn to love them. God save the modern marriage when the liking fades, because Christian charity is too often missing.

Hope and I found that hard and severe truth in the early days of our marriage. We did not know how to feast in marriage with a person we did not (for the moment) like.

Scrooge, even the redeemed Scrooge, would not be on most of our guest lists, but if we missed him then we would miss the man most jolly in the City.

He would be too old for some parties, too rich for others, not rich or noble enough for a few more. A single man is not welcome at other feasts and so the blessings of the celibate are lost.

God help me to learn the blessings of Feasting this Holy Christmas. Why? Because there is a greater Feast coming at the End of Days and if I am fit only for partying with those I like, then I will not be welcome there. I must learn to wear party clothes fit for that Feast, conversation appropriate to it, and what gifts are welcome there.

There is another place for those who will not learn to Feast, but are driven only be likes. Of course, if I will not learn to party with those I must love here, the good news is there I can be done feasting forever in the endless poverty of Hell.


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