Just as soon as I announce my intention to not blog, I am seized by the desire to blog. Well, just a little blogging, just one non-music-related Christmas post. In case anyone thinks that my posting SCTV's elaborately cynical take on holiday specials suggests a certain lack of Christmas cheer, I should also say right now that I love Christmas. I don't love the ridiculously hypertrophied "Christmas season" that now stretches from Halloween to the New Year, and I don't love the fact that for two months you can't go anywhere without hearing stale Christmas music in a variety of unpleasing arrangements. So while I don't share Christopher Hitchens' loathing of Christmas and all its works, I do sometimes feel oppressed by what he calls "the assault of the one-party state totalitarian Christmas music."
But what I do love about Christmas is crystallized in Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas, which I read as a boy and now read many times each year to my kids. (It's their favorite Christmas book.) It's such a lovely book, so unsmarmy, humorous without being "funny" (i.e., without the usual frenzied unfunny mugging), sentimental but not saccharine, and refreshingly free of sanctimonious cant. It pictures Father Christmas as a gruff, working-class Englishman, wearily getting out of bed on Dec. 24 and not looking forward to his busiest day of the year.
Father Christmas is magical, of course -- he has the flying sleigh and reindeer and everything -- but he also gets dirty when he goes down chimneys ("blooming chimneys!"), trips over housecats in the dark, and gets stuck in bad weather:
But when it's all done, he goes home, feeds the cat and dog, puts his dinner in the oven, takes a bath, pours himself a beer ("good drop of ale") and reads some travel brochures by the fire. And then he has his dinner, his pudding (the kind I had as a kid), and a postprandial cigar and brandy:
I loved this book as a kid, and love reading it to my kids, because this Father Christmas is the kind of person I always recognized in my own family and (now that I'm older) can sort of relate to -- a guy who puts up with the inevitable and likes the little pleasurable consolations that life has to offer. Briggs' cartoon panels are full of warm buttery light and plain household objects, lovingly observed -- they are the coziest pictures in the world. The landscapes and houses that Father Christmas visits are little oases of warmth in the darkness and chill of winter. I was living in a 19th-century brick house in Toronto's Annex neighborhood when my parents bought me this book, and I recognized my neighborhood in one of the pictures
right down to the tracks in the snow left by a recently-departed car, and the little colored squares of lighted curtained windows along the backs of the houses across the alley.
My choice of pictures here -- FC on the toilet, FC swearing at the weather, FC drinking and smoking -- probably makes Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas look a little more punk than he really is. It's really a very sweet book, with lots of pictures of FC just doing ordinary stuff -- looking after his pets, putting the milk bottles out for the night, etc. But this book is sadly hard to find in the United States. There is a an expurgated version of the book and DVD, apparently, tailored to American audiences, which object to drinking, smoking, and even the very mild cussing. "Blooming" is no worse than "darned", but apparently it's still enough to trigger angry emails from concerned American parents. Look at some of the comments left on the Amazon page for the original, out-of-print edition: one, titled Outrageously INNAPROPRIATE [sic.] and CRASS!!!, says,
My daughter innocently brought this book home from her school library hoping to have a nice Santa book the week before Christmas. Unfortunately, this book isn't even a story, instead it is a cartoon strip about a grumpy Santa swearing throughout his Christmas chores. One panel depicts Santa with his pants down around his ankles while using the toilet. Apparently, the only thing that make this Santa happy is booze.
As Jaroslav Hasek once said, "This is only a small illustration of what bloody fools are born under the sun."
But hey, it's all love and no hate at Christmas, so I'll just stop right there. Happy non-specific solstice celebration, everyone!