Saturday, October 26, 2013

Turning Back Time

Tonight the clocks go back. I know this because I heard it announced at morning Mass, from my father, and from the radio.

I've always loved this daylight saving business. I like how it brings people together, as only a few other things do; things like general elections and big sporting occasions and extreme weather (or "snow", as we call it in Ireland).

I've always felt that there is something unnatural about urban and suburban life, where we are all fragmented and busy about utterly different things. I think that we all feel a deep yearning to be a part of a more organic community, where happenings happen to us all. (I see some tourist board is promoting Dublin as a "a city of villages". I wonder will anyone be taken in by that?)

Moving the clocks, of course, is a minor thing compared to an election, or Ireland playing in the World Cup. But why should it be? I've never understood why more isn't made of it. People could stay awake for a simple ritual, like the drinking cocoa at the time-change. A particular film or sketch or could be played on television (like the Dinner for One New Year's tradition in Germany). The mayor could turn the clock back in the town square, after a brass band played a tune. Something.

I've always been a sucker for tradition, and I've always felt dissatisfied when potential traditions (or celebrations)are passed up. I remember being most disappointed when Ireland joined the Euro, one day in 2002, and there was no hoop-la whatsoever. (I wasn't in favour of the change, but that's immaterial.)

I remember a book of stories I had in my childhood, which included a few ghost stories. (Any parents reading? Public service announcement: BUY YOUR KIDS BOOKS. And not just "improving books", but books that they'll actually read.)

In one particular ghost story, there was one passage where a boy looks at a new house and feels a chill, then reflects that it will look less spooky with curtains up, since-- as his mother always says-- "curtains make a house a home". The phrase, hardly profound in itself (but new to me, back then) had a powerful effect on my mind, and still does.

If anyone were to ask me to summarize my social philosophy in one phrase (which seems, unfortunately, highly unlikely to happen), I might answer: "Curtains make a house a home". The curtains in question being ceremony, tradition, ritual, convention, chivalry, custom, politeness, taboo, community and all those other intangibles that (to adapt Burke) economists, sophisters, calculators, radicals, revolutionaries,and one-track minds of every sort will never understand.


  1. I too enjoy occasions that raise a good spirit in people like Christmas, Easter, and (dare I say) Halloween. Still, I've never really understood the point of changing the times. I have heard it has to do with giving more daylight to farmers, but I still don't see the point.

  2. Time changes would indeed be ever so much more enjoyable if they were attended by ceremony of that magnitude. I'm all for the brass band. (And really, if you're going to do so momentous a thing as mess with time, it *ought* to be commemorated more than it is.)

    In other news, you caused momentary panic in the States; I sat down to read your blog with a cup of coffee, having slept in quite late, and, being greeted with the news that there had been a time change, began to repent of my decision and wonder if I could still make the late Mass. Luckily for me, as it turns out, the time change here isn't until next week. There is still plenty of time to get a band together. -Molly

  3. Best of luck organizing the brass band, although the wee hours is a daring time to have such an entertainment. It is rather ironic that I've been posting horror stories to the (ghostly) band playing, but the only scare I manage to bring about is by making a lady think she missed Mass!!

    Seriously, I think Americans actually "do" tradition and ceremony better than Europeans. You have prom nights, Knights of Columbus, Daughters of the American Revolution, fraternities and sororities, fight songs, and all the rest of it. The irony is that so many Americans, in the tradition of Henry James and T.S. Eliot, have looked to Europe for the graces and refinement and civilization they felt their homeland lacked, when I think America is more civilized and ceremonial, not less.

  4. It's quite nifty to get an observer's view of tradition in America. One does tend to take a lot of those aspects for granted. I suppose there is a general feeling here that our country is younger, less rooted, if you will, without the weight to carry off "tradition," (I'm not saying I feel like that myself particularly, but then again, with Catholicism woven through my upbringing, I do find it rather hard to separate religious traditions from secular ones.) -Molly