Christmas, Craftsmanship and the Value of Good Work Some thoughts from Wendell Berry

In October when the Walmart shelves begin to fill up with Santa hats, glittering angels and new toys we like to imagine the inventory coming from someone like this,




Though they were more likely made by someone like this,


19 year old Wei, in Yiwu, China spray painting polystyrene decorations. See full article here.


It is a reality we don’t like to face, and for good reason.  Nearly all of us, at least at some level, value good work.  We respect the craftsman. We recognize beauty.  A carefully and thoughtfully made craft speaks to our souls. This isn’t materialism, rather it is the acknowledgement that all things, and even our own bodies, are made from the same earth. Craftsmanship teaches us about ourselves.


Philip Sherrad said, that, “Creation is nothing less than the manifestation of God’s hidden Being.”  And seeing God’s hidden being disguised in plastic and Styrofoam is unsettling.    As we deck the halls with plastic boughs of holly, and face the reality that our economy thrives on disposability, cheapness and exploitation, our “fa la la la la la la la,” begins to ring hollow.


Wendell Berry says,

“You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility . . . To be uninterested in economy is to be uninterested in the practice of religion; it is to be uninterested in culture and in character. Probably the most urgent question now faced by people who would adhere to the Bible is this: What sort of economy would be responsible to the holiness of life?”


Many of us can look back at our high school days of flipping hamburgers (or mine was making popcorn at the movie theater) we have experienced the degradation of menial work. Not that all simple work has to be degrading, in fact quite the opposite, all work can be done well and with pride.  But part of the pride in work is knowing that what is being created will be valuable, helpful, or nourishing, and that the process the worker is valued intrinsically as a human being, and for their work.


Berry goes on to say,

“To work without pleasure or affection, make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonor God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for. This is blasphemy; to make shoddy work of the work of God.  .  . But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing His Spirit .  .  .  If we understand that no artist-no maker can work except by reworking the works of Creation, then we see that by our work we reveal what we think of the works of God. How we take our lives from this world, how we work, what work we do, how well we use the materials we use, and what we do with them after we have used them- all these are questions of the highest and gravest religious significance. In answering them, we practice, or do not practice, or religion.”


At least for those of us who call ourselves Christians, and likely for many who don’t, we don’t want to enjoy Christmas at the expense of someone elses’ dignity or health, the degradation of our planet or the blasphemy of God.  Yet doing exactly this is virtually inevitable in our contemporary practice of an American Christmas. If the Christmas spirit is real, if this is truly a time of charity and goodwill then it is also a good time for us to face a hard reality and begin to make choices, drastic as they may seem, to live in a way that honors God and man.


‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la la!
Don we now our gay apparel, Fa la la la la la la la!
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol, Fa la la la la la la la!

See the blazing yule before us, Fa la la la la la la la!
Strike the harp and join the chorus, Fa la la la la la la la!

Follow me in merry measure, Fa la la la la la la la!
While I tell of Yuletide treasure, Fa la la la la la la la!

Fast away the old year passes, Fa la la la la la la la!
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, Fa la la la la la la la!
Sing we joyous all together! Fa la la la la la la la!
Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la la la la!


Thanks for being here,




This post is part of a series of reflections on The Art of The Commonplace. For more Liturgy of Life, subscribe or follow on facebook. To learn more about our reading group, click here, or check out our facebook group. We would love to have you read and ponder along with us.



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