Christmas Pants, Chesterton Rants, and School Decembers
I’m no longer ashamed to admit that I own and wear Christmas Pants, and I think you should too. My understanding of how to celebrate the Christmas season has changed recently, and I’ve had to rethink how I comport myself and how I manage my classroom in December. Do you own a pair of Christmas Pants?
By Christmas Pants I do not mean pants that have a candy cane, nativity, or Santa design on them, like a Christmas necktie. What I mean by the term Christmas Pants is a normal pair of pants that I buy, on purpose, beforehand, that are a size or two larger in the waist because I know that I will gain a few pounds during the Christmas season, and that’s fine, and even good. Not a pair of sweatpants, and not a pair of fleece or pajama pants to lounge around the house in on Christmas morning, but a pair of everyday professional pants identical to the ones I normally wear to work. I’ve decided that in order to properly celebrate the Christmas season, I should expect to put on a little weight, because Christmas is a time of feasting. And this has also led me to reevaluate how I organize class time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I’ve been a bit self-conscious of my weight since junior high. I’m not overweight, but even during my athletic days in high school I had a bit of a squishy middle. It’s been an on-again, off-again battle with my belly. I’ve always put on five to ten pounds during Christmas time and always felt guilty about it. I stressed about eating the wrong things or too much of any one thing, and this got worse as I got older and my metabolism slowed. Several years ago, in August, I found a really good sale on Docker’s pants and decided to buy three of the exact same color, enough to last me through the whole school year. When checking out, the pretty, perky clerk looked up at me and said, “Sir, did you know that one of these pants is a size larger than the other two?” She thought she was doing me a favor, correcting a mistake, but I already knew. “Yes.” I replied, and the look on her face was one of honest surprise and confusion, but it also expected an explanation. I felt my ears burning with embarrassment as I stammered, “You know, for, um . . . winter.” She was kind about it, but I left the store quickly.
But last year I read The Spirit of Christmas by G.K. Chesterton, who was a large man, and I have reconsidered my position on Christmastime eating. The book is actually a collection of his various essays and other writings on the topic of Christmas, and I discovered one of the recurring themes, perhaps even a creed, is that the Christmas holiday is a time of feasting, and so we should feast.
Chesterton despises the humbug and intellectual skeptic who find some pretended reason to criticize the holiday, such as sympathizing with the Christmas Turkey when they should be more concerned with “the soul of Scrooge and the body of Cratchit.” Chesterton fully embraces the mirth and meals of Advent. Of particular note is his delight with Christmas pudding. One passage is strictly about this holiday food and begins this way, “Christmas and health are commonly in some antagonism, and I, for one, am heartily on the side of Christmas.” I was not familiar with Christmas pudding, although Chesterton says he could make an entire meal of it, and I had to do some research. It seems Christmas pudding is an English item, and not what I would consider pudding at all. I have yet to find any locally, but Chesterton’s repeated intensity and praise towards feasting at Christmastime, especially with Christmas pudding and regardless of any drawbacks, gave me pause to reconsider my attitude toward gaining a few pounds during Christmas.
I think I need to expand my philosophy, and waistline, to include feasting at Christmas as a form of worship. I’m used to worshiping in song or prayer, but what about a festive meal? At Christmas, we celebrate the mysterious and unexpectedly wonderful incarnation of the Divine Being among us. We celebrate in winter with a time of feasting. Who would choose to put a feast in the middle of winter, when the daylight is sparse, the food supplies questionable, and the weather unpleasant? But this is remarkably poetic, for into the darkness and despair of the human condition came the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, and the One whom even the wind and the waves obey. Is it not right that we should celebrate, and do so with good food? This is not to say that we should binge eat, or gorge ourselves, and perhaps my eating habits don’t need to change at all, just my attitude regarding the result. January will come and I will do the work of getting back to a normal diet and waistline, but while Christmas calls, I will joyfully answer.
It is the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving that begins this season in the United States, and I think rightly so. Thanksgiving is a holiday in which we thank the Almighty for our blessings here on this earth, for food, clothing, shelter, and the various good things we enjoy in this life. This holiday for earthly blessings is structured specifically as a feast, and its purpose is to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness in our hearts. Gratitude is a seed of happiness and is a Christian command. Romans 1 speaks very clearly that we are to acknowledge God and give Him thanks. Thanksgiving begins the Christmas season by rightly ordering the affections of our heart and points us toward the higher, greater blessing in the heavenly realm, in the next life. Things of earth point us toward heaven. Thanksgiving begins the season with gratitude for earthly blessings, and Christmas culminates the season with gratitude for heavenly blessings.
So I now embrace the few pounds that I will gain as I rightly celebrate the entrance of the Christ Child into the world. I will happily purchase, in advance and on purpose, pants that are a size or two larger than normal, and even give them the affectionate name “Christmas Pants.” In order to rightly worship this Christmas, I will feast deliberately, cheerfully, and with an attitude of gratefulness.
But how does this attitude translate to the classroom? I teach high schoolers, and instead of being a time of feasting, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are often a time of famine: a famine for time, strength, endurance, sleep, and most of all, joy. The crush of the end of the school year and the anxiety surrounding exams makes it perhaps the most stressful time of the year, not the most Wonderful time of the year, as it should be. Some of this is unavoidable, but we as teachers can have a good influence. Let’s not cram one more chapter in before the end; let’s make time for an attitude of feasting, and personally model it, whatever that may mean for us and our students, and let’s be patient and understanding with our young people as they expand a little bit around their mental waistlines. We celebrate a Child, and so children should be allowed to feast too, and even taught how to feast.
Perhaps I should buy a pair of red Christmas Pants so as to not hide the fact that I’m feasting. They won’t match my wardrobe at all. When people ask, I’ll tell them. Let red be the outward beacon of an inward mirth. Perhaps that’s why Santa is jolly, plump, and wearing red. He’s our mascot, rightly feasting for all the world to see.
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