G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, and the Joy of Christmas | Dale Ahlquist | CWR
Why a radio broadcast from Christmas Day in 1931 still rings with the wonder of “this season of enjoyment.”
“I have been asked to speak to you for a quarter of an hour on Dickens and Christmas.” Thus began a live radio broadcast from England to America on Christmas Day, 1931. The man speaking into the microphone was G.K. Chesterton.
“Why, on this day of holiday, am I made to work?” he asked. “Why, on this day of rejoicing, are you made to suffer?”
I can answer that question, 85 years after Chesterton asked it. Chesterton was asked to speak to America about Dickens and Christmas because both of those things were popular in America, and there was an association between the two of them. As Chesterton was well aware, Dickens had been responsible for the revival and appreciation of Christmas traditions that were being lost in 19th century England.
They were being lost not through neglect but through open attack by two rather diverse sectors: puritans and atheists. The Puritans did not like the symbols and festivals and obvious connections something that was “half-Catholic and half-Pagan”: dining, drinking, decorating, singing and making merry. Even worshipping in a dramatic fashion. And atheists were rather put off by the somewhat religious elements underlying all the fuss about Christmas. Though Dickens wrote extensively about Christmas celebrations, his most famous (still) piece is the story of the conversion of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.”
Scrooge is best known for his dismissal of the feast with the expression, “Bah! Humbug!”: a mantra shared by both puritans and atheists. Dickens, with his compelling, vibrant, delightful and truly sympathetic characters made all the critics of Christmas look rather silly and insubstantial.
But why was Chesterton asked to speak about these two?