Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"Trim the hearth and set the table"

Yesterday was my annual day of running about by myself (I only do it once prior to Christmas). When I was finished, I took some time and read Hilare Belloc's short essay "A Remaining Christmas." This essay was brought to my attention by the author of the simply wonderful weblog, The Hliare Belloc Blog. Framing his description of how Christmas and New Year's were observed at his home, Kingsland, in rural Sussex, is an in-depth meditation on why we, as human beings, require unchanging traditions, observances that are the same year-after-year. These days not many people retain such practices, which is a great loss, not only injurious to faith, but detrimental to life.

As Michael Baker wrote in his brief introduction to Belloc's essay (which I linked to above), Old Thunder, as he was known, possessed "the singular gift of seeing the world sub specie aeternitatis." Hilare Belloc is a charter member of my community of the heart. His writings help keep sane me and even contribute to my happiness (no small compliment there).

Belloc begins by observing, "The world is changing very fast, and neither exactly for the better or the worst, but for division. Our civilization is splitting more and more into two camps, and what was common to the whole of it is becoming restricted to the Christian, and soon will be restricted to the Catholic half." I do not see, despite the hubub surrounding the current pontificate, Catholics long remaining "half." Advent is already practically extinct, even among us, but the "Holidays" (i.e., Kwanzuakkahthanksnewyearsmas) are here to stay, even if Christmas, qua our observance of the Lord's Nativity, is fading.

In a post from a few years back, "Notes from Eurabia," I cited a statistic, which Prof Wim Peeters conveyed in an article written by Maria Corradi for the Italian newpaper Avvenire, that in 2009 58% of Dutch people were not aware of the reason we celebrate Christmas.

Belloc's home Kingsland


I won't delve into what Belloc describes as far as the celebrations go, except to share what he wrote about the Nativity scene, which description resonates deeply within me:
a crib has been set up with images of Our Lady and St Joseph and the Holy Child, the Shepherds, and what I will call, by your leave, the Holy Animals. And here, again, tradition is so strong in this house that these figures are never new bought, but are as old as the oldest of the children of the family, now with children of their own. On this account, the donkey has lost one of its plaster ears, and the old ox which used to be all brown is now piebald, and of the shepherds, one actually has no head. But all that is lacking is imagined. There hangs from the roof of the crib over the Holy Child a tinsel star grown rather obscure after all these years, and much too large for the place. Before this crib the children (some of them Catholic and some Protestant, for the village is mixed) sing their carols; the one they know best is the one which begins: ‘The First Good Joy that Mary had, it was the joy of One’
Why does all this matter? Why not go to Chuck O'Rama and then to the movies?
Man has a body as well as a soul, and the whole of man, soul and body, is nourished sanely by a multiplicity of observed traditional things. Moreover, there is this great quality in the unchanging practice of Holy Seasons, that it makes explicable, tolerable, and normal what is otherwise a shocking and intolerable and even in the fullest sense, abnormal thing. I mean, the mortality of immortal men.

Not only death (which shakes and rends all that is human in us, creating a monstrous separation and threatening the soul with isolation which destroys), not only death, but that accompaniment of mortality which is a perpetual series of lesser deaths and is called change, are challenged, chained, and put in their place by unaltered and successive acts of seasonable regard for loss and dereliction and mutability... all the bitterness of living— become part of a large business which may lead to Beatitude
Maranatha! "Come, Thou long expected Jesus!"

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