The Christmas ceremony of good-wishing by word of mouth has never been in any danger of falling into insincerity. Such is the power of tradition and virtue of a festival, and such the instinctive brotherliness of men, that on this day the mere sight of an acquaintance will soften the voice and warm the heart of the most superior sceptic and curmudgeon that the age of disillusion has produced. In spite of himself, faith flickers up in him again, be it only for a moment. And, during that moment, he is almost like those whose bright faith the age has never tarnished, like the great and like the simple, to whom it is quite unnecessary to offer a defence and explanation of Christmas or to suggest the basis of a new faith therein.
DEFENCE OF FEASTING
And now I can hear the superior sceptic disdainfully questioning: “Yes, but what about the orgy of Christmas? What about all the eating and drinking?” To which I can only answer that faith causes effervescence, expansion, joy, and that joy has always, for excellent reasons, been connected with feasting. The very words ‘feast’ and ‘festival’ are etymologically inseparable. The meal is the most regular and the least dispensable of daily events; it happens also to be an event which is in itself almost invariably a source of pleasure, or, at worst, of satisfaction: and it will continue to have this precious quality so long as our souls are encased in bodies. What could be more natural, therefore, than that it should be employed, with due enlargement and ornamentation, as the kernel of the festival? What more logical than that the meal should be elevated into a feast?
“But,” exclaims the superior sceptic, “this idea involves the idea of excess!” What if it does? I would not deny it! Assuredly, a feast means more than enough, and more than enough means excess. It is only because a feast means excess that it assists in the bringing about of expansion and joy. Such is human nature, and it is the case of human nature that we are discussing. Of course, excess usually exacts its toll, within twenty-four hours, especially from the weak. But the benefit is worth its price. The body pays no more than the debt which the soul has incurred. An occasional change of habit is essential to well-being, and every change of habit results in temporary derangement and inconvenience.
Do not misunderstand me. Do not push my notion of excess to extremes. When I defend the excess inevitably incident to a feast, I am not seeking to prove that a man in celebrating Christmas is entitled to drink champagne in a public restaurant until he becomes an object of scorn and disgust to the waiters who have travelled from Switzerland in order to receive his tips. Much less should I be prepared to justify him if, in his own home, he sank lower than the hog. Nor would I sympathetically carry him to bed. There is such a thing as excess in moderation and dignity. Every wise man has practised this. And he who has not practised it is a fool, and deserves even a harder name. He ought indeed to inhabit a planet himself, for all his faith in humanity will be exhausted in believing in himself. * * * So much for the feast!