How can we enjoy ourselves this holiday season when sadness, cruelty and strife so often dominate the headlines? This is a question that Leigh Hunt, the great 19th-century English writer, asked himself nearly two centuries ago, and it is as relevant today as it was when Hunt tried to answer it.
In his essay on “Christmas Day,” written in 1830, Hunt describes the “enjoyment, or relief” of the festive season. But in the same essay he also has — characteristically — “a word or two to say of a graver tendency.” Is it right to spend, laugh, relax and revel when there are so many people who live in isolation, fear and poverty?
Hunt’s answer is yes. And why? Because we do not defeat sadness by adding to its sum total. “It would be a great pity,” he writes, “were there no sunshine in one place, because there is rain in another.”
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