Festivus is the Seinfeld-inspired holiday that, like Hallothanksmas, mocks our sense of celebration.
There is much to be mocked, of course. But the underlying theme is that all such traditions are mere inventions, as is the culture that gave them to us.
Over at the Front Porch, Patrick Deneen argues that the modern world is unfriendly toward culture. In particular, he says, “its dominant political philosophies have combined to displace culture from its ancient place of pride, to eviscerate culture in any meaningful sense and to leave behind a disordered set of fragments that we now call ‘multiculturalism.’”
And he’s right.
Universities, for example, are all about ‘diversity,” by which they mean “lifestyle choices.” And at the same time they “seek to eliminate any remnant of actual cultural diversity by which colleges and universities were once differentiated.”
You find this in education, in politics and in art. It’s the very odd case that the more different things are, the more they are the same.
Yes, the same in blandness. But also the same in the sense that each is devoid of certitude, virtue, passion or fire. Or even history. Every holiday is equal, except that some are more equal than others. Culture itself is stripped of significance, and clothed in mere sentiment.
This is a dangerous progression, one that eventually turns individualism into collectivism. Nothing can be cherished that is not cherished by everyone. Nothing can be believed that is not believed by everyone. Everything is offensive that is offensive to anyone.
It explains the madmen among us. And the mindless sheep.
Culture must be more than this. It celebrates differences that matter—history, virtue and, yes, judgment. It collects our wisdom and gives it form. It gathers our sacrifices and gives them significance. It roots us in reality. It celebrates our achievements and gives us sales on sheets and pillowcases for President’s Day.
OK, maybe not that.
What culture must do is remind us that there is nothing new under the sun. That the past is still prologue. That people who are dead still have a voice. And even a vote, in what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead.”
Deneen puts it this way:
Culture is not only knowledge, but also a set of dispositions – in particular, gratitude to the past for what has been achieved and passed on, and a sense of obligation to the future for what is owed as an inheritor of something one did not create, but rather, which created and fostered you.
A holiday reminds us of this, or should. So should an art exhibit or a church service.
But to be reminded of such providence is no longer enough. We must tie ourselves to the mast with bonds of reverence and respect.
It’s the only way to resist the Sirens song.