Commercial Christmas Readers' Accounts
"Oh isn't that lovely. Look dear : don't you think Aunt Lucy . . . ? " " Much too good for Aunt Lucy."
" I should like to see a pair of hogskin gloves." , " Yes, madam. What size? " "Oh, I don't really know. They're for a friend of mine. She has long fingers,"
" 1 do hate Christmas shopping. But it's got to be done I suppose." "Yes, it's got to be done. my dear. You've just got to send people presents, if you think they're likely to send you presents. Besides, it's good for trade," " Yes, it must be good for trade."
" Good for trade " echoes the shopwalker under his breath, and he wipes his neck with a white silk handkerchief (a present of the Christmas before), " but for whose trade? I don't get anything out of it. Trade! " He thinks of a cold night when your steps echoed on the road. and there were stars all over the sky. When you looked up at them you walked drunkenly, and you felt like singing only you didn't know the words — " Haberdashery, madam? Straight through and on your left."
"Good for trade," the heavy air, hot and full of over-sweet scents, hums with the thought. which is generated through all the shoppers in their thick coats. They fumble, and ask questions, and fidget, and check lists relentlessly.
" Good for trade ": the men and the girls behind the counters work with automatic purpose, answering questions, swiftly moving boxes of ties, trays of stockings, stands of woollen underwear; stringing parcels, taking money, scribbling bills, making hundreds of small gestures and movements, rapid and unthought. "Yes, madam? Certainly maclam. Yes, madam. Thank you, madam.
" Good for trade " murmur the doors as they swing backwards and forwards with
soothing poufs; and the slow tread of thousands of feet along the littered pavement emphasise the thought.
The great 'buses move shudderingly, and slowly in red flocks. The conductor runs upstairs, there is only one passenger there, so he sits down uneasily for a moment. " If I stay here they can't say anymore : 'Do you go to Bourne and Hollingsworth? '" He laughs and then sighs. He is tired, but he supposes it is all good for trade.
This is Christmas in England, 1937 . . . " Good for trade." But Christmas is a festival not a market: and Catholics at least still think of it as a festival, and worship the Infant Christ with songs and the Sacrifice.
At a Sanatorium We have written to several of our readers asking them to describe the ways in which they will spend Christmas. Here are some of the replies.
From a patient in a sanatorium for tuberculosis:
"This last few weeks the staff with the help of some of the patients have been busy making decorations to brighten the place for those who cannot go home for the Christmas leave which is granted to all patients who are in a fair stage of convalescence. But I shall he going home. . . As in the past years I shall attend Midnight Mass, with a non-Catholic friend.
" At the sanatorium there is no Christmas Day service held by any denomination. The only time the parish priest can get to the patients is at 1.30 a.m., alter Midnight Mass, This he is willing to do, but it is doubtful if the hospital authorities will allow it. The Catholic members of the staff are given facilities for going to Midnight Mass.
On Christmas Day and Boxing Day the fare is very good, and the Sister in charge does everything to make the occasion cheerful; and presents are distributed to each patient by the matron. These presents, handkerchiefs, socks, cigarettes, ties, are very much appreciated by the men.
"Of course, for the staff it is business as usual, but they arrange among themselves to share the work so that everyone will have one early evening during Christmastime."
Thinking of Turkeys
From a farmer in Devon:
" At the moment I am preoccupied with the thoughts on turkeys and geese which have to be plucked and trussed during the early part of next week. This often means working till midnight, so that by Christmas one is not feeling too festive. On Christmas Eve everything on the farm must be tidied up, last-minute shopping done, visitors met at the station, and time found to get to Confession. Then Midnight Mass, the one time in the year when I can go to Mass without a rush to get my work done first.
"On Christmas Day itself there will he the usual routine work. For dinner there will be the smallest and leanest of the turkeys. Having one's own poultry and eggs does mean a big saving in housekeeping expenses. After dinner it is time to start work again outside. Not till dark, after a bath and a change of clothes, when I settle by the fire for a late tea, and tune in to the B.B.C. party can I feel that it is really Christmas Day."
Day there is a family reunion. On Boxing Day, a rather quiet party at the house of
an aunt. Then on Monday, after a foot ball match in the day, an uproariously gay party at night. The Christian virtue of
temperance is, I'm afraid, somewhat forgotten on this occasion (rneu culpa). You will notice a mixture of the Christian and the non-Christian in this manner of spending Christmas. Our family are all Catholic. "The difference between the non-Catholic and us, is that they completely ignore the religious significance of the festival. It is not fashionable, in the eyes of our nonCatholics here to make a lot of Christmas
in the religious sense. We have been directly'acensed of making too much of it,
and teilif human Catholics were responsible for all the fuss. ' f=uss' I presume, includes religions services, social functions, and' party spirit.' We don't attempt to deny the charge, we accept it as a cowl i nient."
A Post-War Phenomenon in Scotland From a. houseman in Glcrsgow: "You are doubtless aware of the general background to Christmas in Scotland. The general observance of the feast is a postwar phenomenon, for which commercial interests are to a great extent responsible. Presbyterianism always discouraged Christmas celebrations as savouring of Popery. Naturally the people did not relish being deprived of their festival, and so New
Year celebrations were substituted. But now some of the Ne'erday customs are losing their hold. . .
" Normally I would only work two hours on Christmas Day, as on other holidays of obligation, but on this occasion I shall probably be working from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. However, as a result three other boys will have the entire day free, and I shall get a day off at another time, We shall have
extra cleaning to do before the 25th. We get no bonus but tips run from 10s. to 15s.
" When we were kids we always had a little treat, a toy, fruit and sweets, but like many thousands more we lived on subsistence level so that such extra expenditure meant that something else had to be done without, or someone go unpaid. It is a fact that even the poorest joined in the drunken carousals, which were a feature of Ne'erday celebrations until recent years, they went without necessaries to do it.
" At the present time Christmas does not make much difference in a working-class home except where there are children, and even then the difference is not great. On the whole the pagan feast of the New Year still holds the greater sway."
Sorry for his Neighbours
From a general farmer:
"From the time of my conversion to the Catholic Faith, I have just had to try to remember that we live in an agnostic or quite indifferent and irreligious country. At the approach of Christmas I cannot help feeling sorry for my neighbours. They get excited over parties, socials, whist drives, dances, dinners, shopping, etc., and all with the excuse that it is the festive season.' Not one of them seems to have grasped the import of the festival. As G. K. Chesterton wrote of the people who dined in the Savoy Hotel on Christmas Day : You missed the festival but kept the feast.'
" On the night of Christmas Eve I depart in my car to the town, calling at a village on the way to pick up another of the Faith. We park the car outside the church and put a rug over the radiator. We tiptoe in so as not to disturb the confessions, and we too make our confession. We are in our places by 11.30. The church is soon twice as full as usual. The colourful decorations tend to accentuate the decayed state of the distemper, and the stains where the damp has come in. I think of the gorgeous buildings all over the countryside, erected in the ages of Faith, whither a few people will gather tomorrow forenoon to sing hymns and think of the Christmas dinner cooking at home. I console myself by thinking that Our Lord was born among poverty-stricken surroundings, and probably among a plenteous company of fleas. . . The time comes to receive Holy Communion. As we approach the altar steps the blare of dance music from a wireless set in a nearby villa beats into the ear. . . After the Mass the cars are started up and the people disperse in twos and threes. Home, and so to bed. Christmas is over."
A Clerk From a general clerk (he has been unemployed for some time but has at present a job for two weeks. He is 35 and not married): " I have a temporary job for these two weeks, and have to put in all the overtime I can next week, especially Friday. I shall then go to Midnight Mass, but doubt if I shall go again on Saturday, instead I shall indulge in rest and eating. Some of the
Blessed Sacrament Guild are singing carols to help Saint Vincent de Paul's Society, to help the poor. Mass, of course, again on Sunday; and on Tuesday I sign on at the Labour Exchange; but there seems to be the chance of a job as bookkeeper in the City."
" 1 Meant to Go Home . . ."
From a civil servant in a country town. (Because of a recent bereavement he had to go travelling on a borrowed railway fare, which has to be paid back):
"I had intended to go home on Christmas Eve, to my wife and son, 220 miles away, but unless a miracle happens I shall have to remain here in ' digs.' On Christmas Eve I shall go to Confession and Midnight Mass, and afterwards take the choir (I am the choirmaster) to the Presbytery to sing carols for a quarter-of-an-hour. Then back to High Mass Christmas Day, and afterwards back to digs,' where I shall spend a long time wondering what. to do, wishing the holiday period over, and aching to get back to work."
AU the other letters stress the importance and the love with which Catholics regard Midnight Mass. All look forward honestly to the feast, to the food and the drink and the dancing and song, for they have kept both the feast and the festival.