We love Christmas for the same reason we love the royal family. They give modern Britain a rare sense of community

For a few days we are all in this together and that’s what matters, even if our upbeat behaviour is irrational

Share

We ache for a sense of community and belonging. This intense need is the only explanation of our focus on Christmas. For most, there is little or no religious significance to the festival. I do not detect great materialistic greed either. Yes, gifts are exchanged, but these often anti-climactic transactions do not explain the sense of anticipation that many feel on Christmas Eve, the formal start of the collective celebratory mood.

The excitement has much more to do with collectivism than with gifts. For a few days we all are in this together and that is what matters, even if our upbeat behaviour is irrational. The other day, I phoned a friend to suggest we must meet before Christmas, as if it is quite impossible to meet afterwards. I was not alone in being so bonkers – most of us emerge from the coming few days slightly surprised that life carries on. Indeed, that surprise is part of the unifying madness. We are all at it. From north to south, and east to west, dinners are planned, parties are held and walks take place for a breath of fresh air, the excursions and the gatherings all becoming slightly different because it is “Christmas”. The normally fractured UK is at one.

This need for binding events, however shallow the cause, also explains the enduring appeal of the royal family. The eccentric, unaccountable, more or less publicly silent individuals that form one family become a vehicle for us to celebrate or mourn together, depending on whether one of their number has got married, been born, or died. I have a friend who goes to a party on days of royal celebration where they all dress up. He loves it, although fully aware of the absurdity. It is an opportunity to be silly with others. The excuse for communality is again the key.

We could do with some more substantial excuses in our atomised society. In my part of north London there are so many coffee shops you can inhale a caffeine high as you walk. The cafes are always packed. One owner told me that they have become substitute offices for the growing number of freelance workers in the area who feel the need to get out. If the 1980s was the decade in which some working-class communities were wiped out, the current one marks the splintering of the middle classes with fewer working in an office alongside others.

Politics and the Church offer alternative tribes, but depressingly few now seek to join a party, and church attendances have been in decline for years. Football remains a great tribal attraction, but the connections between supporters and their club are more tenuous than they once were. Although fans still refer to their chosen team as “we”, the association is comically limited. I have been in touch with a range of friends about the semi-crisis at “our” club, Tottenham Hotspur. The sacking of the manager, the dip in form – perhaps arrested, perhaps not – has brought us together. Again, what we enjoy is the collective sense of despair and hope. We know virtually nothing about the multi-millionaire players who pass through the club, but at least we all know nothing, our ignorance is a connection.

But the connection is narrow. In contrast, I recently attended the funeral of a relative from Camborne in Cornwall. I had been snooty about Camborne, a town of apparently limited charm compared with the coastal resorts that have become the equivalents of Notting Hill, on sea. But the funeral service was a testament to the power of community. The deceased had been a police officer. His wife sings in choirs. They were Methodists. The church was packed.

There was a much more tangible sense of togetherness than would have been the case in the more glamorous towns in Cornwall or, indeed, in London. It was like going back to the 1950s. Camborne has a strong community and no restaurants. In so many towns there are plenty of restaurants, and no sense of community.

The places where atomised individuals live largely apart rely on strong national institutions to act as powerful binding agencies. Yet they, too, are threatened by anti-state ideologues arguing that markets must replace the NHS, that schools must be “free”, and that the BBC must be scrapped – leaving us all even more isolated than we are already. Lofty critics describe the  health service, patronisingly, as a national religion. Those who worship at its altar are fully aware of its flaws but are grateful that when they fall ill they do not have the additional worry of working out how to pay for the treatment.

The national worship is rational. Individual schools are part of a local community, their attitudes and policies inevitably having an impact on other schools. They cannot be wholly free from the rest of the community. The BBC has epic failings, but take it away and the country becomes even more fractured. We must not rely on Christmas and royal families alone  to keep us all in  it together.

A welcome pause in the frenzy

There is one substantial reason for non-believers to celebrate Christmas. It is the only time of the year when there is a pause in the eternal political drama.

There used to be a break over the month of August, but now in that summer month “crises” erupt to  fill the vacuum in the  news cycle.

One of the strangest stories last August was the crisis in the Labour party. There was some internal discontent before August, and there still is. But nothing happened in August itself. Even so, a question that raged for weeks on end was: “Where are the Shadow Cabinet?”

The boring answer was that quite a lot of them were on holiday. When they were in the UK, before August, they could not get any media interest in what they were doing. But by the end of the month Ed Miliband faced a leadership crisis. Indeed, on his return from his break he was door-stepped by a TV journalist and asked whether he would resign.

Over Christmas, however, there will not be an attempt to manufacture a crisis for David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Miliband. The trio take a break. Even potential rebels turn down requests to appear on news programmes in the unlikely event that such requests are made. Politics will be calm and will appear to be calm.

The dynamics of the exaggerated frenzy do not work. Should Cameron move even further to appease the right? I’m sorry he’s having his Christmas dinner. Where’s Miliband? He’s having his dinner, too. Let them eat turkey and let us all enjoy the fleeting pause.

Twitter: @steverichards14

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game