If any person here breaks in with the statement that I am deceived and the truth is not in me, and that Christmas stands just where it did in the esteem of all right-minded people, and that he who casts a doubt on the heartiness of Christmas is not right-minded, let that person read no more. This book is not written for him. And if any other person, kindlier, condescendingly protests that there is nothing wrong with Christmas except my advancing age, let that person read no more. This book is not written for him, either. It is written for persons who can look facts cheerfully in the face. That Christmas has lost some of its magic is a fact that the common sense of the western hemisphere will not dispute. To blink the fact is infantile. To confront it, to try to understand it, to reckon with it, and to obviate any evil that may attach to it—this course alone is meet for an honest man.
If the decadence of Christmas were a purely subjective phenomenon, confined to the breasts of those of us who have ceased to be children then it follows that Christmas has always been decadent, because people have always been ceasing to be children. It follows also that the festival was originally got up by disillusioned adults, for the benefit of the children. Which is totally absurd. Adults have never yet invented any institution, festival or diversion specially for the benefit of children. The egoism of adults makes such an effort impossible, and the ingenuity and pliancy of children make it unnecessary. The pantomime, for example, which is now pre-eminently a diversion for children, was created by adults for the amusement of adults. Children have merely accepted it and appropriated it. Children, being helpless, are of course fatalists and imitators. They take what comes, and they do the best they can with it. And when they have made something their own that was adult, they stick to it like leeches.
They are terrific Tories, are children; they are even reactionary! They powerfully object to changes. What they most admire in a pantomime is the oldest part of it, the only true pantomime—the harlequinade! Hence the very nature of children is a proof that what Christmas is now to them, it was in the past to their elders. If they now feel and exhibit faith and enthusiasm in the practice of the festival, be sure that, at one time, adults felt and exhibited the same faith and enthusiasm—yea, and more! For in neither faith nor enthusiasm can a child compete with a convinced adult. No child could believe in anything as passionately as the modern millionaire believes in money, or as the modern social reformer believes in the virtue of Acts of Parliament.
Another and a crowning proof that Christmas has been diminished in our hearts lies in the fiery lyrical splendour of the old Christmas hymns. Those hymns were not written by people who made-believe at Christmas for the pleasure of youngsters. They were written by devotees. And this age could not have produced them.