‘The 12 Posts of Xmas’ are a series of posts that will be published between 1 December and 25 December 2008. From tales of woe through humour to mere rants, each post is based around a classic Christmas song and is accompanied by a festive images of times gone by…!!!
I was a child (of sorts) in the 1970s, the time when most of the classic Christmas pop songs were written and begun their giddy ascent into British folklore (Slade, Wizzard, Mud et al). One song that my family never liked – possibly because it was quite unlike most other Christmas songs – was Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”. Because of this, I too grew up disliking the song, feeling that it wasn’t a real Christmas song, whatever that meant.
This stayed with me for many years.
Part of my own family’s tradition every Christmas is to listen to all the Christmas classics whilst driving in the car. Sadly, we normally start this about mid-November and with each new technological advance, so the format of the listening experience changes: C90, CD and at the moment, I-Pod playlist. Alongside the old classics – Slade, Wizzard, Mud et al – we now have The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl, The Darkness (sorry), Bo Selecta (even sorrier) and The Killers. Yet unlike my family in the 1970s, nowadays Greg Lake’s song is included.
As I got older, I became more critical about the songs that I included in our Christmas ritual. Each year I tried to refine the list, to make it as Christmas-sy as possible. Subsequently over the years, East 17 and Elton John have both been sent to the scrapheap whilst Shakin Stevens has gone but more recently, come back. Cliff was never in or out.
Part of this refining process was to listen to the words of the songs, which included Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”. When I did, I was blown away. Whilst my mum – who I later asked – disliked the song because she felt it was ‘anti-Christmas’, for me it is sheer brilliance: capturing the modern Christmas experience completely and the fake-ness of the entire event.
In the song, Lake tells the story of how, as a child, Christmas was a magical time, shrouded in mystical stories of wonderment about the virgin birth and about Father Christmas. But one Christmas some time later, he realises that Father Christmas is a myth and with that, so the wonder of Christmas disappears, leaving him cynical and disappointed. For me, what is so true about this is that as a society, we do blur the edges between the overtly fantastical (Father Christmas) with the overtly theological (the virgin birth). I myself have been to school plays where the ‘naughty sunbeam’ is looking for the Christmas star over Bethlehem whilst only a few minutes later, Father Christmas is appearing alongside the three kings and various shepherds. What lessons do young children take from this: are they able to differentiate between fairy story and Christmas story in any meaningful way? I very much doubt it. So when the myth of Father Christmas dissipates, is it any wonder that exactly the same thing happens as regards the virgin birth, the nativity, the angels and Jesus?
Of course not. But it does conveniently allow the void previously filled be wonderment to be promptly filled by the materialistic excesses of the nex X-Box, laptop, I-Pod or integrated HDTV and DVd.
Lake ends the song by saying:
I wish you a hopeful Christmas, I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness, Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas, They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell,
The Christmas you get you deserve…
Given the stories this week about the ‘Lapland’ theme park on the Hampshire- Dorset border and the ‘scam’ that it has been described as, Lake’s final words once again rung true in my ears – as indeed they tend to every Christmas. If all you can do at Christmas is look to buy a ‘proper Christmas’, here by buying into a constructed Lapland:
The theme park’s website had shown pictures of snowy “winter wonderland” scenes and icicles.
It also promised real log cabins, a nativity scene, husky dogs and other animals, as well as a “bustling” Christmas market…
Then you are surely missing the point. Not recognising how desperate their attempts to buy in and consume something real were, those who spent up to £30 on a ticket to experience Father Christmas in Lapland (in the New Forest I hasten to add) unsurprisingly emerged from the theme park angry, disappointed, and frustrated. Probably even more desperate to experience a ‘real’ Christmas…
As one former employee of the theme park told the BBC:
…staff were subjected to violent outbursts by irate customers, including Santa being attacked and one of the elves being smacked in the face and pushed into a pram. He too had been punched in the forehead…
Many of those have since gone on and complained about the theme park, stating that it has spoilt their Christmas. Sadly, many would sympathise with them given that they too will be trying to ‘buy’ a real Christmas this year also.
Constructing a false reality in the middle of the New Forest isn’t what Christmas is about and doesn’t re-create a lost sense of wonderment that many experience. Getting into severe debt to buy unwanted and unnecessary gifts and gorging yourself on too much food doesn’t re-create that lost sense of wonder either. Yet despite doing this every year, those exact same people continue to search in desperation for something that will.
Sadly, they’ll never find it not least because you cannot buy wonder, you cannot buy mystery, you cannot buy – in the words of Greg Lake – “eyes full of tinsel and fire”. Because of this – and again the words of Lake come in useful – the vast majority will always get the Christmas they deserve…
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk