The Christmas Feast

Originally published in The Illustrated London News, January 9, 1915.

Publisher’s Note: Please excuse or ignore the choices of pronouns and male-centric language. We are all products of our time, and Charles Hayward (born in 1898) was no exception. It’s interesting to note that as the magazine entered the 1960s, the language and pronouns began to modernize as well. (I’m sure my own writing will be interpreted as specist in 2243 by our squid overlords.) Hayward’s insight and inspiration are legitimate, honest and important – no matter which pronouns are attached to the ideas.

There was that unforgettable incident at the beginning of the 1914 war, when on Christmas Eve in a spontaneous movement of goodwill the British and the German soldiers clambered out of their trenches and exchanged greetings and carols. According to a writer in The times at the time: “Not once or twice but again and again we hear of this sudden change upon the night of Christmas Eve, how there was singing upon one side answered by the others, and how the men rose and advanced to meet each other as if they had been released from a spell. Everyone who tells of it speaks also of his own wonder as if he had seen a miracle; and some say that the darkness became strange and beautiful with light as well as music, as if the armies had been gathered together there not for war but for the Christmas feast.” If only that spirit of goodwill had been allowed to develop instead of being, as it was, quelled by army orders, the history of Europe might have taken a very different turn and we should not now be living under the shadow of the atom-bomb.

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Most men want peace, although we do not appear to be progressing in the right direction for it, not only because of the constant talk of war but because men are losing their interior peace. There are doctors to-day who believe that the modern advance in material benefits is not bringing with it all the blessings of health and happiness that were once anticipated. While diseases that were recognized as the scourges of mankind are gradually being eliminated, their place is being taken by the “stress diseases,” which have their roots in men’s own inner conflict and are far more difficult to treat. Life is getting altogether too bewildering and complex. We need the simple life lines of faith and belief and good work to our hands to help us steer a course through it.


We have only to look at the serene face of some old craftsman who has found his life’s work in the exercise of his skill to realise that here is one way in which a man can find peace. If by responding to the natural urge for creation that is within him his hands have learned to follow the behests of his mind and his whole being is working in unison, he knows the absorbed, integrated peace that to-day is found by few. The world is so busy pandering to our human nature that the very memory of the hidden depths it contains becomes overlaid. No wonder so many men are bewildered and frustrated, seeking their pleasures in eternal things, while the sheer satisfaction that could be theirs of finding and cultivating their own powers in some creative skill of mind and body remains hidden from them. It is not until something happens, some need or enthusiasm which touches off a spark, that the possibilities begin to dawn. Most people nowadays have sufficient time in their leisure to enable them to do the things they really want to do. Every man in his own way can become a craftsman. There are good tools, good materials, good instructors to be had where needed, and anyone who is willing to make the effort and be a little patient with himself can learn. The woodworker has the additional advantage of dealing with one of the very foundation materials of man’s existence, from the time long centuries ago when he first kindled a fire from the boughs of the forest trees right down to the present when timber from the world over provides the material to make his home a gracious and friendly place. And with the feast of Christmas upon us we know that it can be a sanctuary as well, but this is something more than craftsmanship, resting upon the living truth behind it all.

— Charles Hayward, 1957; excerpted from Honest Labour: The Charles H. Hayward Years


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