Saturday 22 December 2007

Solstice reflections

It is that curious time of year when London is open for frantic business, and then firmly closed for a day. Having particular days in the year when life is, however trivially, different gives a certain structure. To some extent, that structure is enforced in law with restrictions on the opening of shops on 25 December, or enforced in practice on many people by the withdrawal of public transport and the closure of public museums and art galleries. But the structure will not suit everyone. There are those who would rather there was no great build-up followed by national closure, either because they feel lonely or because they would rather not suffer clogged roads and airports. Christmas is not the only example, of course. Public holidays have similar, but lesser, effects.

So is it right that these things should be imposed, or should all laws setting out public holidays and special rules associated with them be abolished? I think the latter, on grounds of individual liberty, but there is a case to be made for the other side.

The case is that those who want the structure and the special days can only have them if most people join in. If there were no laws, many people would not join in. Traditions are not strong enough to do the same job. I remember that in the 1960s, all of the public holidays had a noticeable impact on daily life. Now, most of them do not apart from the large numbers of people travelling. So do we owe it to each other to continue to impose on ourselves the traditional restrictions, and to do so by law and by the withdrawal of public facilities given that this is the only effective method of imposition? I say no, but those who say yes do have a case.