The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

23 Dec 2008


Looking for something related to literary works and Christmas, I’ve come across Christmas Spirit in Literature, an article published in The New York Times, signed by Holbrook Jackson and dated December 1, 1912, Sunday.

It starts commenting the all-time feeling that past times are better than the present.

'There is no surer indication of the permanence of an idea than popular belief in its impermanence. Elderly people, for instance, are never tired of telling us how different things were in their youth. (They were generally better.) …… Christmas has fallen an easy prey to the sort of pessimism I mean. The statement that Christmas is not so jolly as it used to be, like the equally determined conviction that Christmas weather is almost extinct, has become what Gelett Burgess would call “a Bromidiom”'

Then, the journalist tells us about the enduring force of Christmas which overcomes that kind of negativism:

'Christmas will come again with its wonted merriness, good fellowship, and sentimentality, brushing dissenters aside or sweeping them into the hilarity of ceremonies, as it did long before it became Christmas. Charles Dickens was more certain of that than any other modern when he drew for us the immortal parable of Marley’s Ghost. He knew that the permanence of Christmas depended upon the conversion of Scrooge'.

Next, the writer highlights the idea that the English literature lacks a relevant body of works related to Christmas due to reasons such as the identification of this festivity with sentimentality, a literary mode not fashionable at the time:

'We are becoming more sophisticated even in our popular reading, and find enthusiasm for few books that do not in some way appeal to the sense of fact rather than to the sense of sentiment'.

He defends the idea of different approaches:

'There is no reason why we should not have a Christmas literature of fact, for the idea behind Christmas is one of the most uncompromising facts in the world. I would not mind even if such a literature were quite Zolaesque, for the true spirit of Christmas is in danger of being swamped in a mercenary orgy of present giving for commercial purposes, which only a novelist trained in the French school might be able to describe. Even the sentimentality of Christmas at its best is deep rooted in the fact of fellowship and the need of emotional unity, and, looked at sanely, the convivial traditions of humanity are just as much facts as London Bridge or the Statue of Liberty'.

And he acknowledges Dickens as a writer who managed to express the feeling of the common man towards Christmas.

'He approached Christmas as the common man had always approached it, but, unlike the common man, he had the power of literary expression, and he used that power not to refine upon a refinement after the manner of the cultured but to voice an essentially spiritual mood in the terms of average sentiment'.

Throughout the article the journalist mentions other authors and works such as the Christmas essays by Washington Irving, Milton’s Ode “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity”, Ben Jonson’s Christmas, His Masque or 'The Truce of Christmas' by G.K. Chesterton (but this poem, was it not written after the war truce in WWI, in 1914? Quoted in a 1912 paper?)

He ends his article with a call for spirituality, admitting that “Christmas spirit has been departamentalized and divorced from the average spirit of the average day” and longing for the “cosmic quality which binds more than separates” reflected in hymns and folk carols.


1 comment:

  1. "When I was small, and Christmas trees were tall..." says the song. Well, they're still tall for extremely short people! And that's what Christmas is all about.