The Ghosts of Christmas Past

"Now in history," wrote Chesterton, "there is no Revolution that is not a Restoration." A collective memory, a vague but compelling collection of shadows that bind us to the past, seems to whisper a perennial, bittersweet hymn to the numbed ear of man, particularly modern man. Every nation, tribe, or clan has passed on tales of a golden past to its children, transmitted by priests, village elders, and prophets of restoration. But in the modern age, as Chesterton warned us, we are forced "to ask for new things because we are not allowed to ask for old things." Nevertheless, whatever new things we come up with, artificial though they may be, are manifestations of the perennial longing for a restoration of a harmony sensed, but never clearly perceived, since the Fall. It is the desire for such a restoration that drives the "battle for Christmas,"

As Stephen Nissenbaum relates in this study of the evolution of the Christmas holiday, "It was only in the fourth century that the Church officially decided to observe Christmas on December 25." The Church, it appears, chose the date "not for religious reasons" but because it marked the "approximate arrival of the winter solstice"; an event, as Mr. Nissenbaum notes, "that was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity." The first "battle for Christmas" was on.

The Church's goal was...

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