In 1954, notable author and Anglican theologian, C.S. Lewis, wrote an essay titled “Exmas and Crissmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.” It concerns the winter customs of the residents of Niatirb, which, as you may have noticed, is Britain spelled backwards. On this fictitious island, during the most dark, foggy and rainy season, the Niatirb hold a great festival they call Exmas. Fifty days before the celebration, every citizen is obligated to send to everyone they know a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech, is called an Exmas-card. Because all residents are required to send these cards, the market place is filled with crowds searching for the best stamped picture. A great amount of labor and weariness center on this custom.
The Niatirbs also send gifts to one another causing the same problems with the gifts as with the cards, perhaps even worse. Each year the guessing begins – what did my friend send me last year? How much was it worth? I must send a gift of equal or higher value. So whether they can afford it or not, the citizens rush around and buy gifts for others to keep up with their neighbor (undoubtedly of which one neighbor’s last name must be Jones). The retailers herald and trumpet whatever useless and ridiculous gifts they have been unable to sell during the year, now labeled as the perfect Exmas gift.
When the day of the festival finally arrives, most citizens, exhausted by the lead in to the festival, lie in bed until noon. But in the evening of the same festival day, they eat and drink five times as much as they do on all other days. The day after Exmas is thus very grave because of the disorder of the supper and drinking and reckoning how much they spent on the gifts and on the wine.
Among the Niatirbians are a few who celebrate Crissmas. It is on the same day as Exmas. Those celebrating Crissmas do the opposite of the majority of the citizenry. Whether at night on the day before, or in the morning of the celebration day, they head to temples where they partake of a sacred feast. Most temples have images of a fair woman with a new-born child on her knees. The Crissmas celebration is of joy and thankfulness. The day following is not grave as the result of excessive supper, wine, and Exmas bills, but rather, the more restrained and temperate Crissmas celebrators express joy and thankfulness for a whole twelve days following.
Though celebrated on the same day, Exmas and Crissmas in are not the same. Although some stamped cards carry images of the baby, with similar phrases, Crissmasians find it strange that so many Exmasians perform so much labor and accept so much weariness in the name of a god in whom they do not believe.
The C. S. Lewis story is a parable, of course, or maybe even an allegory. It is my hope and prayer that everyone at Saint John’s has a clear vision of Exmas and Crissmas in our lives today and joins me in saying, “May you have a very blessed Crissmas” for twelve whole days.
- Fr. Dave