Once a year, the modern world indulges in a celebration of everything it usually disdains: family, nostalgia, tradition, sentimentality, innocence, festivity, ceremony, and even (albeit usually indirectly) religion. Christmas is the annual return of the repressed, on a societal level.
It is also an eminently conservative festival, the one time in the year when it is permissible to take a break from looking forwards and outwards. At Christmas-time, we are permitted to look backwards to the past, and inwards to our own traditions and history. Indeed, at Christmas, we can look upwards too — beyond the horizon of indignation and resentment. For even the most intersectionally oppressed seem to cheer that pale stale male, Santa Claus.
G.K. Chesterton suggested that all festival was ultimately rooted in religion. Admittedly, Chesterton never saw a Pride March. Whether this disproves the thesis, or whether Pride has become a religion of its own (which takes the cardinal sin of Christianity as its cardinal virtue), is a matter I won’t discuss.
At this time of year, the song “I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard gets a lot of airplay. While the literal thought of Christmas every day is nightmarish, I increasingly harbour the wish that the rest of the year could be more Christmas-like, that the things we love about Christmas were not crammed into one end of the year but distributed throughout it.
Why should one season have all the traditions, all the atmosphere, all the customs? There are Christmas television channels, Christmas TV specials, Christmas albums, Christmas editions of magazines, Christmas fairs, Christmas biscuit tins, Christmas every blessed thing.
Halloween is not without its equivalents, and summer has its barbecues and Beach Boys songs. And it’s true that big cultural events, such as general elections and the World Cup, tend to have a Christmas-like atmosphere But Christmas has more or less cornered the market otherwise. Why should this be so?
The neglect of many previously-celebrated festivals, such as St. John’s Eve or Corpus Christi, or Guy Fawkes’ Day in England, are a cause for sadness. The Keep Sunday Special campaign in the UK seems to be fighting a losing battle. But my point here goes beyond festivals and special occasions. It’s a point about specialness in general.
One good way to articulate the vision of conservatives (social and cultural conservatives, at least) is that they wish to preserve specialness and character. The same sort of specialness and character that Christmas uniquely enjoys.
Against the gender theorists and feminists, conservatives wish to preserve the specialness and character of man and woman, masculine and feminine– those “problematic”, elusive, and inescapable concepts.
Against the cosmopolitans, conservatives wish to preserve the specialness of every national culture– the Irishness of Ireland, the Englishness of England, and so on. Not in some multicultural, “complex” understanding which is everything and nothing at once — but in a way rooted in tradition, one which organically and slowly incorporates the new and the different.
Indeed, the best way to express my own cultural nationalism is this: I wish the Irishness of Ireland was as inescapable, as all-pervading, as the atmosphere of Christmas in late December.
Against the Drag Queen Story Hour and the quest for eternal rebellious youth, conservatives wish to preserve the innocence of childhood and the dignity and wisdom of serene old age (to paraphrase Eamon De Valera’s notorious St. Patrick’s Day speech).
Against the rage of angry secularists, who seek to push any mention of God from public life (or even life in general), the conservative — even when he is not a believer himself — wishes to preserve the specialness of the sacred, the otherworldly, the transcendent. He wishes, too, to preserve the specialness of his society’s religious heritage.
Against the encroachment of the state into every field of public, private, and family life, the conservative wishes to preserve the specialness of civil society– where a man may associate with whoever he pleases, say whatever he pleases, and do more or less whatever he pleases.
In the field of culture, conservatives wish to preserve the specialness of poetry from the imperialism of prose.
Are all these claims a description of any particular conservative’s viewpoint, other than my own? Perhaps not. But I think that most conservatives would share most of them, and I think the principle I’ve tried to describe here is a true and valuable one. Conservatives appeal to freedom and to tradition; another value we might invoke is that of specialness. After all, everybody loves it at Christmas.
Maolsheachlann Ó Ceallaigh is the author of the recently released book “Inspiration from the Saints. Stories from the Lives of Catholic Holy Men and Women” available from Angelico Press