Sunday, 30 November 2014

Have Yourself a Self-Referential Christmas

It's the thing I finally twigged this year. That I'd never considered before. A thing so obvious, that I should have got it. And now I have.

That as Christmas drifts further from its roots, there's no shortage of Christmas music being played. There are radio stations in the United States that play 24-hour Christmas music. From October.

And yet Christmas used to stop on 12th night, just in time for Epiphany. And now it finishes, basically, on Boxing Day.

And that is because, to a large degree, once you've reached Boxing Day, the centrepiece of Christmas itself is redundant. As I have pointed out before, this centrepiece of Christmas - the one person on whom it all centres - is Father Christmas. And once he's delivered his presents, it's all over. That's it. Time to get down to DFS and buy a new sofa.

I think we can track the problem with Christmas through the songs. In the beginning, there were a few Latin hymns for the Nativity. "Adeste Fidelis" and all that. And then the great folk carols that were sung in the days of West Gallery Quires - "Arise and Hail", and "While Shepherds Watched" and "Remember O Thou Man" - that last written by the man who also wrote "3 Blind Mice", as it happened. Those songs were about Jesus, about the Incarnation, about Redemption, about the mystery of faith. Powerful stuff. And on Boxing Day, you could still sing carols - because Jesus is still with us on Boxing Day as well. The Incarnation is, after all, a thing that lasts for ever.

But then songs, and belief, changed. There were the songs about happy imaginary cartoon characters at Christmas time - "Frosty the Snowman", "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", "Rockin' Robin", "When Santa Got Stuck up the Chimney". Songs about the weather, as traditionally conceived at Christmas in the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, "White Christmas", "Let it Snow", "Winter Wonderland".

But then there were the songs about being happy at Christmas, because it's Christmas and Christmas is happy. "Silver Bells", "I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day", "Mistletoe and Wine" and - most insipid and insidious of them all - "Wonderful Christmas Time".

Yep, "Wonderful Christmas Time".

"The party's on
The feeling's here
That only comes
This time of year

Simply having a wonderful Christmas time
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

The choir of children sing their song
They practiced all year long
Ding dong, ding dong
Ding dong."    - By Lennon, McCartney, Starkey, Harrison.

So we're feeling good because it's Christmas.  And what is it that makes us feel good about Christmas? Well, it's Christmas time, innit? We're simply having a wonderful Christmas time. We like Christmas because it's Christmas. The modern Christmas is the festive equivalent of the Bitcoin. Because, cut off from its roots - whether Christian or alleged pagan - and when you consider it's at the most miserable time of the year, when it's dark all the time and there's almost certainly no snow, it's the celebratory equivalent of lifting yourself up in the bucket you're standing in. And what on earth are McCartney and friends doing, listening to a choir of children who only know one song and yet have spent all year practising it? They must be rubbish.

Do you know why I like "Fairytale of New York"? Because it blows the self-referential away. All the singing of the NYPD choir, the bells ringing out, the fact it's Christmas Day - are shown for what they are as two addled losers slag each other off amid their drink-drowned dreams.

And, obviously, it sounds nice and Christmassy. Have yourself a self-referential Christmas. I'm off to play that one by the Darkness. 


  1. I discovered a year or two ago that it was impossible to buy mince papers around December 28th, but that you could get them in mid-November.

    1. We used to buy our mincemeat when it was being sold cheaply after Christmas and keep it until the following year; in recent years it has been easier to buy it cheaply when it is being sold off before Christmas. Last year we "rehomed" a free Christmas tree from a skip on Christmas Eve. Progress.

    2. But everyone knows that you move on to creme eggs and hot cross buns by 28th Dec

  2. Mince papers? I meant mince pies. Mind you, it's hard to get a mince paper, either.

  3. I'm sure I saw hot cross buns in our local Tesco yesterday

    1. You did. They're selling them all year.


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