By Sam Burnham
I tease my wife about Christmas. It's true. It's a habit that I developed before we were even married. She has a gift for decorating and her festive spirit has always been contagious. She's quick to trim the tree, usually having the lights blazing before Thanksgiving. This is a tendency I have usually frowned upon as the retailers push the Christmas shopping season ever towards July in an effort to separate us from our money. That particular piece of the free market system provokes my innards toward nausea and has destroyed any stray urge I might have had to visit a shopping mall.
But I must admit that in the last few years my teasing has become more of a hollow tradition. I do it because I've been at it for almost 20 years and it just wouldn't be Christmastime without it. My meaning of Christmas is growing, changing, maturing. And I'm learning to completely sever commercialism from the season.
I don't wish to reduce this article to a "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" bumper sticker as the experience I'm having is not cliche and the existence of such a product is a bit ironic in itself. It's also too easy to set up a creche in the corner of a room and use it to convince yourself that you're keeping the real reason for Christmas this year.
As a family, we have our creche and we are observing the a weekly Advent reading around our table each week. We have candles and scriptures and plenty of other reminders of the religious nature of this holiday season. But that still doesn't capture the entire experience that I'm having.
Our tree and the other lights around our home do make a stark contrast against the bleak appearance of a dreary overcast day. Our elves, now in a state of semi-retirement have made a much less intrusive appearance as I have seen them teach many lessons of fun, redemption, and beauty. I cannot imagine a Christmas without them and the memories of the way they amazed my sons.
Everywhere I look this year there are memories. The season begs me to look deeper into myself and expect to unearth an increasingly better person. It calls for me to chisel away at the fake facade of Christmas and uncover forgiveness, charity, grace, beauty, wonder, gratitude. Like the elves, this might require a little mischief and probably something often credited as magic but that believers know as faith.
When asked what I want for Christmas, I smile. You can't buy me anything in a store. I won't show ingratitude for a gift but for me, a physical possession just isn't that impressive this year.
Hearing my sons read to our family from the scriptures, having a meal together, these things are fleeting as time is passing and they will leave the nest to start their own lives. But what is going on is going to instill in them, and in myself, things of permanence - memory, tradition, faith. These are things that time cannot erode, cold cannot freeze, heat cannot melt and tyrants cannot banish. The symbols may be temporal but the realities are much more permanent. How could I ever unwrap a package and find anything remotely like that inside?
So those are a few of my thoughts. The season is young, so there are bound to be more. Dig deeper this year.
By Sam Burnham
The recent trip to Virginia gave me many ideas for stories to share here. I think there are many ideas that go with our small town theory we've been discussing and we'll get to that soon. But Before we do, I'd like to focus on one of the more beautiful sites I encountered along the way.
In the South, the great houses are a thing of legend. In all likelihood, this particular home was the first among them. Completed in 1722. the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg served as the the seat of power and the home of the king's designated colonial governor of Virginia. The governor that is discussed the most in the Revolutionary City was the final royal governor, John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore typically called Lord Dunmore.
The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1781, just months after the capital was moved to Richmond. John D. Rockefeller made the commitment to restore the city as a historic landmark and the Governor's Palace was reconstructed using plans discovered at Monticello. Thomas Jefferson had drawn up detailed plans on the structure while planning some renovations during his tenure as governor. While the plans were not used by Jefferson himself, they proved invaluable to the reconstruction effort.
The color in the gardens is beautiful even during the onset of fall. There's a resident cat, "Sir Thomas Grey" who roams the gardens much like his predecessors would have. Among the other life are squirrels and more than a few birds.
While such rooms and gardens are not practical in most of our homes today, this was not an ordinary home. This is a gem from yet another bygone era. An fitting reproduction of an elegant home of yesteryear and a recommended stop for anyone finding themselves in the area.
By Sam Burnham
This article was originally written a little over a year ago for a website called "Cornbread Conservatives". The article was never published there and I have decided to post it here.
“If it were socially acceptable I’d wear nothing but seersucker. And maybe linen.”
That was the quote that gave birth to this essay. Sean Busick probably didn’t mean to inspire it but without his quote I would be sitting waiting to see what interesting ideas would appear on Cornbread Conservatives. Instead, I’ve been dubbed to present my opinions by expounding on my follow-up quote, “I think one of the responsibilities of a Cornbread Conservative should be setting appropriate trends.”
Much of my early adulthood was spent trying to find new and innovative ways to do things, resisting traditions, and experimenting with such entities as the Emerging Church These are not exactly the characteristics that define a Cornbread Conservative. But that long and winding road taught me that traditions matter, that simplistic beauty is irreplaceable, and that we can often answer our questions about the future with an honest look at our past. I also learned that trends can be shallow and that the crowd is often chasing something disposable and tacky. Time, experience and some really good friends helped me to where I am today. A Southern, Conservative, liturgical-tradition-leaning, Agrarian sympathizer experimenting with the Oxford comma.
The stance of a Cornbread Conservative is, in a word, Conservative. When we look at that word we cannot ignore conserve. The role of a conservative is, or at least should be, to conserve. We are the protectors, the conservers of society and civilization. Our actions and omissions should lead to the day we can hand off a healthy world to our children. Accomplishing that task is dependent on our ability to conserve the foundations that were set by our forefathers that established the world we were handed. The traditions, those permanent things that we often take for granted, are not just repetitive actions, preserved for the sake of tradition. They are the very foundation of our society. If we lose that foundation, our civilization will crumble. That is where the responsibilities of a Cornbread Conservative come into play. By setting appropriate trends and showing others why these trends matter, we become the evangelists that spread the gospel that saves our own way of life.
So let’s look at some of those trends.
It can be as simple as seersucker and linen. We live in an excessively casual society. Being a complete slob is socially acceptable while my friend Sean worries about wearing seersucker and linen. It’s not that there is not an appropriate time for a t-shirt and blue jeans. And during the winter months, tweed might be a better choice than seersucker. I’ll also say there is an appropriate time and place for pajamas (hint: the place is never further than your mailbox, providing it’s at home and not a P.O. box).
This assessment may seem harsh and I know people are looking to be comfortable. I also know that there is a common idea that caring what others think is outdated. But let me say this, dressing like a slob in public communicates a lack of respect for yourself, for those you encounter and for society at large. My Uncle Sam, for whom I am named, survived the Depression, worked in textile mills and for the city street department, had only a 3rd grade education, and would not leave the house without wearing a collared shirt and fedora. It mattered to him that he looked presentable when he went into public. It was a matter of having respect for himself and for others. This is an excellent arena for a Cornbread Conservative gentleman to lead the way. Be seen in public dressed well. Demonstrate your respect by looking respectable.
In politics, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by a political party on this issue, we need to set the trends by having high standards for our viewpoints and our candidates. We need to be honest in our dealings. We need to be resistant to sensationalism from the left and the right. It would be wise to begin to remove ourselves from the modern pundits that get labeled as conservative but do not share our views on true conservative issues. Instead we should choose to reflect on the commentary of true conservatives like William F. Buckley Jr., Russell Kirk, The Twelve Southerners, and others. This will often require us to seek out older and less popular sources for information. But as we form coherent arguments to support conservatism and positively advance that viewpoint, we have the opportunity to start a trend in that direction.
As Cornbread Conservatives, we should set trends in entertainment. Be it visual art, music, cinema, theatre, books, we need to appreciate, support, and promote those art forms that are congruent with our beliefs. There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth over the state of modern Country music. Entertainment is traded on an open market. There are sellers because there are buyers. Ignorance sells because stupid buys. Sex sells because horny buys. The trend to set is honest consideration the true talent behind our entertainment. Is our choice a true art form? Is there talent behind it? Or is it just blobs of paint and Auto-Tune?
The point of trend setting is not to adhere to some Puritanical regimen. It’s not about being stiff and starched at all times. It’s not about some new social legalism that we have to enforce. It’s about providing true, conservative leadership - an example to the masses that low expectations and apathy are not mandatory. Higher expectations and respectability are true options at our disposal. The traditions that we grew up with can be handed down to our children. Meaningful entertainment, beautiful architecture, and good food can be preserved, even celebrated. We are not setting trends because we have to. We are setting trends because we can.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire