Shaw vs Chesterton on Christmas

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George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton were both accomplished British writers at the turn of the twentieth century but in character the two could not have been more unlike each other. Shaw was a vegetarian contrarian, an atheist, a eugenicist, and a supporter of despots. (He was also the only man to be awarded both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar.) Chesterton was a gourmand, an anti-fascist, and a devout Catholic. Despite their many differences, they enjoyed a friendly rivalry. At one point Chesterton mocked Shaws asceticism, saying, “To look at you, anyone would think a famine had struck England.” Shaw replied, “To look at you, anyone would think you had caused it.” 

One topic on which they disagreed was Christmas. Of the holiday Shaw said:

Like all intelligent people, I greatly dislike Christmas. It revolts me to see a whole nation refrain from music for weeks together in order that every man may rifle his neighbour’s pockets under cover of a ghastly general pretence of festivity. It is really an atrocious institution, this Christmas. We must be gluttonous because it is Christmas. We must be drunken because it is Christmas. We must be insincerely generous; we must buy things that nobody wants, and give them to people we don’t like; we must go to absurd entertainments that make even our little children satirical; we must writhe under venal officiousness from legions of freebooters, all because it is Christmas that is, because the mass of the population, including the all-powerful middle-class tradesman, depends on a week of licence and brigandage, waste and intemperance, to clear off its outstanding liabilities at the end of the year. As for me, I shall fly from it all tomorrow or next day to some remote spot miles from a shop, where nothing worse can befall me than a serenade from a few peasants, or some equally harmless survival of medieval mummery, shyly proffered, not advertised, moderate in its expectations, and soon over. In town there is, for the moment, nothing for me or any honest man to do. 

Chesterton loved Christmas and rebutted Shaw thusly:

If a man called Christmas Day a mere hypocritical excuse for drunkenness and gluttony, that would be false, but it would have a fact hidden in it somewhere. But when Bernard Shaw says that Christmas Day is only a conspiracy kept up by poulterers and wine merchants from strictly business motives, then he says something which is not so much false as startling and arrestingly foolish. He might as well say that the two sexes were invented by jewellers who wanted to sell wedding rings.


2 thoughts on “Shaw vs Chesterton on Christmas

  1. Bob says:

    Good Lord, I love Chesterton more and more……

  2. gerryadmin says:

    One of those writers whom it is a pleasure to read even when he’s discussing an issue that’s been dead for a century.

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