Several of my friends have sent us Christmas cards. I love getting every single one of them.
Similarly, I love how many people have the time and resources for beautiful backyards: the kind with perfect grass, a fenced garden, plenty of room for pets, and a fully loaded swimming pool with separate hot tub and artificial rock wall for an ultimate summertime getaway. (Complete with water slide. Clink.)
In either case, folks: I can’t do that myself.
But I fight the sin of covetousness. I want to be grateful for those who have these gifts–grateful that they exist.
Plus, if you haven’t noticed, Christmas cards have gotten better. They’re less cheesy.
Most of the time it’s just a photo of my friend’s smiling family. Along with seasonal and Christlike wishes for the recipient’s best. Sometimes a family update letter is enclosed. And the letter tends to include rejoicing for blessings and lament for trials and sufferings in the previous year.
C. S. Lewis hated secular, sentimental ‘Exmas cards’
This model of Christmas card is apparently an improvement over the saccharine, sentimental Christmas cards of yore.
Which, it seems, are exactly the sorts of cards that C. S. Lewis made it very clear he despises with all his being.
You won’t of course find an anti-card rhapsody in Lewis’s fantasy books or apologetics works. Instead, we find this scathing takedown in a Lewis collection called God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper.
In Lewis’s satirical essay “Xmas and Christmas,” his logic isn’t very deep. But his passionate conviction is.
Lewis describes a strange land oh-so-cleverly called Niatirb, whose residents “use the following customs”:
In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas, and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe.
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, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs.
And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery.
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. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods and this labour at least is over for another year. 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 god and rain and buy a card for him also.
And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.1
And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself.
—C. S. Lewis
Lewis: ‘For the sellers … put forth all kinds of trumpery’
This holiday season, find you Lewis’s complete essay “Xmas and Christmas.”
Because Lewis in full satire-Scrooge mode goes on to share his gentle opinions about more Exmas traditions:
And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.
—C. S. Lewis
- Father Christmas cosplay
- The Exmas Rush
- Secular holiday traditions versus sacred traditions
Lewis concludes, “It is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in.”
However, Lewis also had many a friendlier take on Christmas. For this, we need only recall the arrival of this man into a far more sensible land:
To all our readers at Speculative Faith, especially those to whom I didn’t send an Exmas-card (i.e., all of you):
“A Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!”
- C.S. Lewis, “Exmas and Christmas,” reprinted in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. Walter Hooper, pages 301–302. (I’ve added some paragraph breaks to the original text, just to help simplify screen reading.) ↩