Blaise Tapp: Are traditions of pantomime and carol singing worth protecting?

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There’s every chance that you missed the recent news that British traditions such as carol singing and pantomimes could receive protected status.

The likelihood is at the time, you were probably either watching Mother Goose or in the front garden asking the assembled rabble belting out Good King Wenceslas next to the wisteria to sling their collective hook.

However, the fact remains that we are now officially in a period of consultation during which the Government will hear cases from the nation’s culture vultures about which traditions, festivals and special days should be made officially sacred so they can be preserved for future generations.

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That means, if you are that way inclined, you can get in touch with the good folk at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and make your claim as to why Morris Dancing and basket weaving should be afforded the same status as Chinese shadow puppetry and the Argentine tango.

Pantomimes could become protected by the GovernmentPantomimes could become protected by the Government
Pantomimes could become protected by the Government

The reason for this flurry of cultural urgency is that the Government has agreed to adopt the 2003 Unesco Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage, which is not something which trips off the tongue, never mind can be squeezed onto an official car sticker. Unesco are the people who ensure that a multi storey can’t be built next to the Grand Canyon, which means any endorsement from them carries some considerable weight.

While ancient buildings and sites absolutely need to be protected from both the elements and nefarious characters, I struggle with the concept of a tradition receiving similar levels of protection.

Tradition is exactly that, something that older generations pass down to the next and, in most societies, these are respected and encouraged. I would suggest that the only threat to pastimes or anything resembling a craft is them going out of fashion. I mean, I imagine if this consultation had been run 40 years ago, the pipe smokers’ union would have had a good case for protecting their hobby but these days such a move would be, ahem, a pipedream.

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There’s also the question of what constitutes a custom or national characteristic - I mean there’s an argument that queuing in an orderly line for a ridiculous length of time to pick up a prescription or resolutely sticking to the middle lane of the M6 for 70 miles are uniquely British. Would we want to protect either of them though?

We will know if a tradition is worthwhile if our great, great grandchildren are still doing it in 2124.