Christmas is a Tennis Racket and C.S. Lewis is a Scrooge!
I love reading C.S. Lewis’ story regarding the crazy festivity of Exmas, this time of year! It is a story, that very much relates to my own experience each year.
In his story, Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter of Herodotus, Lewis speaks about an island called Niatirb and the great festival that the Niatirbians celebrate every winter called Exmas. Lewis explains this festival:
“First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture…and because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness. But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them…But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also”.
After hearing this narrative one might wonder why the Niatirbians even continue in this practice, as it sounds like it is an awful festival indeed! But Lewis goes on and explains their practice of gift giving – which sounds equally as wearisome.
“They also send gifts to one another [and]…every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom but forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift”.
Lewis goes on to say that the whole lot of them are exhausted so that on the actual day of Exmas they rise late, eat more than anyone ever should, and become intoxicated. And the following day after Exmas, they are miserable because of their intoxication and the realization that they spent so much on gifts that they could not actually afford.
Interestingly enough, there is another festival that a select few of the Niatirbians celebrate that occurs on the same day as Exmas, which is called Crissmas. “And those who keep Crissmas…rise early on that day with shinning faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with the new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child”. Lewis even asks a priest why the religious few put up with the Exmas rush since it surely distracts them from the sacred things of their own festival. And the priest simply replied: “It is, O Stranger, a racket; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis)”.
It is rather coincidental, that our winter holiday, Christmas, is so very similar to that of the Niatirbians. Indeed, every year, I rush about and often I find myself anxious because I fear someone might give me a gift better than the one I gave them, or worse, have none to give them at all. This seems to be exactly the thing Lewis was talking about in his narrative. Christmas has become a racket! And not the tennis kind…
Yet there is more to Christmas than the rush, there is also those few who celebrate the Birth of a Child. And not unlike on the island of Niatirb, the two festivals are often combined into one. That is, those who are religious are often distracted away from the sacred birth of the Child and are much more focused on the bustle that is happening all around them – even in their own homes.
But as Lewis says in his article, What Christmas Means to Me, “I don’t know the way out.” He laments “But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If worst comes to worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write it off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.”
Perhaps some might think Lewis is being a bit of a Scrooge and is just focusing on the bad aspects while ignoring all the merriment, giving, charity, and cheery festivities of the season. Or perhaps he believes this Child’s sacred birth which ought to be celebrated has been overrun by a nuisance of a festival in which people think very little of His birth – if at all.
Perhaps, as well, it has become hard to see the difference between the few religious people who celebrate Crissmas and the rest of Niatirb who are just rushing about with their carts trying to get the best deals for gift giving on Exmas.
For those who wish to celebrate the birth of Christ – advent is the perfect season – a time when we can reflect daily on the birth of a Child. Immanuel. God with us. Let us be intentional this Christmas season and do just that.
* All quotes from articles in God in the Dock by C.S. Lewis