Wednesday, 8 December 2010

An Atrocious Institution - Window No. Eight

The Voice of Dissent

George Bernard Shaw

The World, 20th December 1893

An Atrocious Institution.

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 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 offered, 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.

Friko's comment:

Oh dear, oh dear, secretly - and now not so secretly - and with the exception of his first and last sentence, I agree with much of what the old grump is saying here. 

Who has not moaned about Christmas being a bore, a chore, an expensive waste of time, a Kitschfest, an occasion for old family rows being warmed up once again, for uncle Geronimo getting so sozzled that he falls off the chair,  for auntie Geronomina bursting into tears at the injustice of it all, at TV programmes being nothing but ancient repeats warmed up for the -nth year,  at the kids breaking their expensive toys within hours of getting them, and everybody feeling sick  because they've been eating and drinking for most of the day.

Christmas doesn't have to be like that.  

It doesn't have to be the corrupt, plasticised, saccharine, artificial creation that has been allowed to smother the real Christmas to which we all reach in our imaginations.

The wonderful Christmas we used to know.


  1. What is amazing is the date on his rant. And we thought commercialism was a recent invention!

  2. We have, pretty much, let a lot of the annoying parts of Christmas fall away. Not that we've gone back to the Christmas I knew as a child . . . but at least we've lost that "buying things nobody wants for people we don't like" part. And THAT is a GREAT relief!

  3. I agree with you, and the him you agree with too. I was just reading about nihilism yesterday, and that what has changed in these last few decades is that we can believe in what we wish, God or not, etc., but now there is a universal-ness to that, which means it is not meaningless. Whereas before if someone chose to go against the populace, it was an exception. I bet that doesn't make any sense without the article. Well, ask if you want to read it. :)

  4. that was hilarious!! christmas is like any holiday. there are layers you can enter the process at. avoiding the murk as i see it is really easy. it's a decision that is made more challenging by being a parent, but it is entirely possible to have simple christmas or any other holiday. celebrate from your heart. steven

  5. While I may not agree with every chosen word of Shaw, I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of his rant. For many years, my family and I spent Christmas week skiing in Colorado or Utah, where most of the time was spent in the snow-covered mountains, blessedly free of commercial exploitation. Those were the best Christmases I can remember. Those are the ones in which I felt true gratitude for the blessings of life.

  6. My only suggestion: simplify, simplify, simplify.

  7. yeah i have moaned about this before...and i understand the feelings...was just talking to my mom yesterday about why the joy and magic of the season seems to get sucked away...

  8. Me and thee George. I see nothing has changed in 100 years. Now 'they' are trying to ruin hannakah too. Saw an ad last night for buying gifts aimed specifically at hannakah.

  9. I could say 'ditto, with reservations' to most of Shaw's rant.
    We can all choose to celebrate Christmas in a smaller, more intimate way, eschewing the over-buying and all the other excesses. I'd like to see the decorations go up later and stay up for the twelve days - no Christmas music until closer to the 25th etc etc. In our house it's been simplified by the fact that son and his family have to come from so far - we help with the considerable expense of the trip, and their visit is our gift to one another. Very liberating! Everyone has a stocking that is filled by everyone else and so far no one has missed a pile of presents under the tree.

  10. Like madamebutterfly, it rather surprised me to see the date. My childhood Christmas' were pretty simple; we usually got one "big" gift, the main one. Sometimes there were other gifts that were less showy, and gifts from siblings or extended family where finances permitted. I have better memories of those than the Christmas celebrations since that time where there were SO many gifts, and children were upset because they didn't get one thing although they got 10 things they had on their lists!

    My favorite holiday (here in the USA) is Thanksgiving, because it does not include any sort of gifting, and the focus is on, well, giving thanks for what we already have.

  11. My favorite childhood Christmas was the one where everything had to be made by the giver. It was possibly the only Christmas my father actually did something about our gifts (he decorated t-shirts for each of us with an individual iron-on pattern).
    Now both sides of the family have agreed to give to charity instead (adults, that is -- the children still receive gifts) and I am breathing a huge sigh of relief.

    The date of his writing is enlightening.

  12. What an amazing and interesting piece of writing.

    We just celebrate midwinter and have a good time!

    I'm visiting via Solitary Walker - I liked your comment about simplicity.

  13. Keep it simple, and take the opportunity to spend some time with those you love. You can generate a little warmth, even in mid-winter, without breaking the bank or going against your principles.

  14. How dreadful "...we must buy things that nobody wants, and give them to people we don't like". I don't ever want to fall into that trap.
    Christmas is a fun family time here.

  15. I would have loved to talk to the "serenading peasants" !

    I enjoy Christmas , though do agree that the shops start far too early .
    But this year a little corner shop explained why they'd put some Christmas Chocolates out for sale in September . They'd been pressured by the wholesaler into buying them in February , with the threat that if they didn't , they couldn't order the whole Christmas range later .
    They , understandably , wanted to recoup their money as soon as decently possible .

  16. Shaw's tirade is quite excellent - a necessary counterbalance to the insincerity, hypocrisy and commercialism which characterise much of the contemporary Christmas.

    Bah, humbug!

  17. We all need this perspective, of course,
    to keep our balance, to keep our heads,
    and a rant by GBS is always refreshing;
    but it is your sweet and sardonic
    rebuttal that wraps the present to us,
    for it zings into the season bang on,
    and it drips with alacrity and treacle.

  18. Kitschfest - that's a great word. And so true. (Though I had to keep scrolling back up to make sure I'd got all the consonants in the right order ...)

  19. I am with GBS but am trying so hard not to be!

  20. Geroge Bernard Shaw joined the Golden Order of the New Dawn around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. He must have liked some celebrations. I love his poetry. Never read his diatribe on Christmas. You do find some lulus Friko.

  21. Friko I so agree with you - Christmas really doesn't have to be like that! Although sadly for many people it is!

  22. Ah, G. B. Shaw beats the pants off Bierce when it comes to it. In my current music mode, I was particularly struck by his first line: "It revolts me to see a whole nation refrain from music for weeks together." Curious line, as my experience, at least, is there's a surfeit of holiday music (I cannot bear to go into shops this time of hear and hear the tinny Muzak of terrible tunes), but I do have a similar complaint. We are going to our "big city" over the holidays and looked forward to some concerts, only to find that anything except Christmas music has been swept aside for the entire course of our stay. I appreciate your note of hope, Friko, and your advent series does help to remind us of another way to celebrate, but I have to say, when I step out into the world around me anywhere, it's hard to see how this holiday can be successfully reclaimed.

  23. I agree with much of what he says -- but I already avoid the commercial Christmas. No shopping the malls -- my husband's been busy in the woodshop making most of the gifts we'll give. Just today I put away the autumn colors and brought out the red and green -- my great grandmother's quilt and other quilts and pillow covers I've made over the years.

    Sunday a few friends and family will gather to help string a popcorn and cranberry garland for the tree as well as decorate it. We won't be playing Christmas music but there'll be lots of holiday cheer.

    Just now my fingers are pleasantly fragrant from the clove-studded tangerines I made this afternoon -- not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

  24. ...the wonderful Christmas we used to know... I'm 45 and that is pretty much my memory. Now, my parents are 80+ and I do hear them speak of a different time, a different way. Shopping, advertisements, obligations... That is pretty much my generations memory, I am sure. But I can make a change and even though Bernard Shaw is a bit of a grump, he isn't altogether off in his analysis.

  25. Shaw's my man! Xmas certainly seems like it was different way back when. Is it only because I was a child? I'm not sure. I am pretty sure though that Geronimo never celebrated it.

  26. Here HERE!

    Aloha from Waikiki!
    Sorry I haven't been around for a while, but if you read my post on Tuesday I'm sure you understand. Wishing you all the best!

    Comfort Spiral


  27. What did you say? “…Christmas to which we all reach in our imaginations” you are so absolutely right. The best Christmas is in our imagination.

  28. dankbar bin ich, Deine täglichen, bereichernden und interessanten Posts lesen zu dürfen!

  29. This year some family trials and tribulations are making things seem hard. External forces to blame, but it is difficult to see your offspring suffering and toiling over Christmas "chores." I wish I could make it easier for them all. You're right though about the need to get back to the simplicity of the holiday/festival. Every Blessing


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