04 December 2019

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I have a way of stymying my Yuletide affections until the last minute. Halloween passes. "Daddy, can we listen to Christmas music?"

"Not yet!"

The Nativity Fast begins and I twitch, but hold the line.

Santa shows up at the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade and I'm all in. Nat King Cole on repeat.

Close enough.

Getting the tree setup this year, I had a thought that demanded elaboration. Soon Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and so many other "Christmas Magic" movies will hit TV screens across the land. Why have these pieces of popular culture become so affiliated with the Christmas season? What gives?

It's because this is the only time of year we (some of us, anyway) allow the world to be enchanted.




Let's start with a little background on a subject I'm not at all qualified to talk about, that being Charles Taylor and the idea of the secular age. To be clear, I have not read Mr. Taylor's work directly (it's long, y'all), but I've learned about it through the Areopagus Podcast, where the Pop Culture Coffee Hour dudes reference a book by James Smith. I also sat down and read that book. It's more of a study guide to the Taylor book, but gets us thinking in those terms.

The very, very general idea is that thought and culture here in the West have gone through several periods of immense change. We were once an "enchanted" people, living in a world where God and Angels were among us and miraculous things could happen at any moment, even if they weren't entirely commonplace. There are stories about St Anthony the Great encountering a satyr, for crying out loud.

Over time our ways of thinking shifted. Things became "immanentized," so that only the here and now matter. God, if He's around at all, is "up there" while we are all "down here." Meaning took a turn inwards toward the personal quest. Science and reason have cornered enchantment and whittled it down to superstition, and so our world is now secular and "disenchanted."

To reiterate, that's a double shot of basic. Read Smith's book or some reviews and you'll get a bit more into what I'm saying. But even without a graduate-level course on the stuff, we get it: our world is rational and technological. Even believers think in a way that would seem completely errant to a medieval European or even people in other parts of the world today. People who want to believe might apologize about it.

Then we hear the man with the bag laugh, "Ho! Ho! Ho!" Our houses light up and so do our menorahs. Even into the most serious or scientific soul, joy creeps its way in as we think of kids delighting in snow and useless hunks of plastic wrapped in wasteful paper. In places where a blizzard is as likely as dark matter turning visible, folks dream sweet dreams of being snowed in and drinking themselves to death on hot chocolate.

Magic is in the air.

It can be hard to see, because it has been so capitalized upon by philistines, but the lingering glamor of angels and stars and God-become-man trickles out into images of Santa and glitter and joyful children. We can all feel it if perhaps we don't know what to call it.

Even Richard Dawkins goes to church on Christmas.

And so when Dumbledore or Bilbo or Aslan show up on our TV screen, we know why. Because the enchantment that radiates out from a diminished Feast Day on the calendar of the church is still there like the tail end of an echoing sound wave. Maybe wardrobes can lead us somewhere amazing. Perhaps the right train platform at the right time is going where we want to go. And maybe, just maybe, there is some magic left in the world.

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