“Man has a body as well as a soul, and the whole of man, soul and body, is nourished sanely by a multiplicity of observed traditional things.”—Hilaire Belloc, “A Remaining Christmas” (A Conversation with an Angel, 1928)
Belloc spoke of a world changing “very fast,” nor has the pace of transformation lessened since he wrote nearly a century ago. But whatever the course or the causes, most people still hold fast to venerable practices. As Belloc explains, these rituals are at work in the “unchanging practice of Holy Seasons.”
Our religious-based observances make “explicable, tolerable and normal” the otherwise shocking realities of existence—our mortality, our moods of disappointment and despair, the weariness of daily tasks, the disappointment of misunderstandings and estrangement. These holy seasons permit us to step out of the cycle of monotony and seeming futility. Belloc recounts the holiday traditions of a great English manor house where the local people gather for prayer, refreshment, games, songs and gift giving.
For they are all connected in the memory with holy day after holy day, year by year, binding the generations together; carrying on even in this world, as it were, the life of the dead and giving corporate substance, permanence and stability, without the symbol of which (at least) the vast increasing burden of life might at last conquer us and be no longer borne.
We are reminded of the incarnational quality of our ancient celebrations. We are not mere Platonic spirits inhabiting this body and this world as sort of a prison. Rather, both our feasts and our dwellings represent in an outward physical form humanity’s eternal aspirations:
This house where such good things are done year by year has suffered all the things that every age has suffered…. But its Christmas binds it to its own past and promises its future; making the house an undying thing of which those subject to mortality within it are members, sharing in its continuous survival.