The Levée

Among the happier celebrations of the True North Strong and Free, now falling into desuetude, is the New Year’s Levée. Invisible today, in the Greater Parkdale Area, it was still a major social Event when I lived in Kingston. The Mayor, in the chains of his office, would hold it at City Hall; and too, the Commandant at the Royal Military College (Canada’s Sandhurst, or Westpoint, across the Cataraqui River). A “very British custom,” as most Canadians would tell you; but like most everything else they believe, not true.

It is French. The term comes down from their ancient Kings, and the example they set, for all Europe, of holding conferences with their principal advisers — in their own bedrooms, upon rising each morning. (Hence the name.) Kings, you see, unlike commoners and populist tyrants, are always at work. It is not a job easy to enjoy — there is no privacy, whatever — and those who covet a throne are, today as through history, fools indeed.

The royal Governor at Quebec — in the days of New France, when Canada extended to Louisiana — also observed this custom, and made it a public occasion on the first day of each year. His officers would attend him, in full resplendent dress, with the accolades of the public at a distance.

When the British conquered Quebec, and installed a British Governor, they nevertheless maintained this custom (along with many more, happy and glorious). Indeed, Levées spread through British North America, among every class of ruler. The Governor of New York, for instance, or the Governor of Virginia, might still be hosting New Year’s Levées, were they still legitimately selected. (Actually, I’m not sure they ever did: the Internet is useless for checking such particulars.)

Full uniform, to be sure; and in the earlier days, no ladies were invited. However, as Canada “progressed” through her World Wars, there were some woman officers; and by plausible extension, spouses of the officers, both ladies and gentlemen. And other prominent citizens came; and their spouses too; and finally, their children. These days, if a Levée is held at all — by tradition about noon on the first of January — it is a Mêlée, because anyone can come. (“Democracy” gets you, one way or another; and the expense is invariably added to the tax bill.)

Well, truth to tell, “the public” were always involved. It is to this we attribute such patriotic Canadian drinks as le sang du caribou, a punch based on wine; or its Anglo equivalent, “moose milk,” based on rye whisky. The habitants and inhabitants would offer their loyal toasts from about 10 a.m. (the traditional hour to begin drinking), until close of day, whenever that would be. Pausing occasionally, of course, to sing “God Save the Queen.”

As I say, these are proudly Canadian civil customs, though going into disuse. For to the sacred, we had always added the profane.

Today, royal customs are considered “snooty.” We now have in our country, sad to say, a class of “republicans” or “nationalists” — the lowest of the low — who want to suppress every inheritance, by which our country was historically defined, and thereby reduce us all to a grim, beggary imitation of the USA — which these nationalists in turn also condemn, in their fiendish bigotry. The first custom we should restore, is therefore hanging for treason.