The Baron then offered a holiday toast. Apparently.

Heard someone suggest two Christmas-related bans the other day. One being that we should not allow Christmas advertising until December 1: yet other that something terminal should be done to all existing copies of ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’.

It’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for both suggestions but it got me pondering a wider question: is there something about Christmas which brings out the calls for banning of various things?

A book I came across in the last year called “Christmas in the Crosshairs” recounts all the ways in which people have, down the centuries, tried to find ways to ban Christmas or otherwise shove people’s behaviour around a bit over the annual festival.

The “war on Christmas” has emerged as another front in the bizarre US ‘culture wars’, and that is what seems to have prompted the book.

Some historical attempts to expunge Christmas are almost funny, others are sinister.

They also banned school nativity plays. I don’t know about you but when I read that I had a momentary, uneasy and guilty ‘weeerl, maybe the Nazis weren’t all bad after all’ feeling.

Don’t worry. The mood passed.

During the Cold War, East German authorities banned Christmas angels – they became ‘end of year winged figures’. The Soviets banned Christmas at various times in various forms under their different satellite regimes.

In Brunei, wearing a Santa hat is punishable by five years’ imprisonment, which must take all the fun out of pulling Christmas crackers.

Today some fascist groups who have adopted a particularly pagan focused approach protest that the winter solstice is the real Christmas, while on the other side of the spectrum, anti consumer groups protest (and extreme cases vandalise) shops which begin their Christmas promos in October. There are anti-consumer protest songs in shopping malls, while Communists stage atheist musicals outside churches on Christmas Eve.

One or two of these claims have the whiff of urban myth, but you get the idea.

Christmas is such a large event there’s enough to annoy anyone. And like any such mass events it brings out the busybodies, to tell the rest of us we are either doing it wrong or should not be doing it at all.

Anyway. I don’t think there’s anything I’d ban about Christmas. The Festival of the Cash Register aspect can be a bit much if you’re not careful but I’m fortunately from a family which never spent up large.

Related is the whole, having to go into the big city and finding there is No Room at the Carpark.

As for the religious aspect…My religious views and feelings put me in the Christian tradition, but I’m not a biblical literalist.

From what I can make out successive generations have bunged together different traditions from the middle east and northern Europe (and probably elsewhere but I’m too tired to go look them up) and those traditions have been layered on each other, going back thousands of years and well beyond the AD/BC divide.

What we’re left with now is a multilayered hybrid of traditional practices going back a few thousand years. .

The mixes of traditions and festivals; the quiet blend of many different strands of bacchanalia and worship are great things to have, I think.

From what I have read, the party -animal aspect of Christmas, with drunken wassailing (I don’t know what wassailing is but it sounds like fun) overshadowed the more reverential aspects.

That was at least until the Interregnum, when Oliver Cromwell’s puritans rather took against Christmas because too many people were having too much fun.

We can’t have That Sort of Thing. And Christmas got banned as a result.

Actually, I just looked up ‘wassailing’. Christmas carols door to door. In Europe, began in the 4th-5th century or so but probably went back further.

We haven’t been big on it in New Zealand and I can suggest an anecdotal reason why this might be: a tale of an Methodist dairy farmer who, many years ago, sent away the carol singers with a polite but firm Wesleyan flea in their ears after the singing upset the cows. A group had gathered at the road gate and cows must have been in the front paddock that day.

Can’t have Christmas affecting milk production.

And personally, while growing up Christmas was certainly a time of good cheer but also of rather a lot of hard work. Hay making, as well as the peaking of the milking season, saw to that.

It was fun. My favourite time of the year, growing up on the farm and I’ll probably write a bit more about this later.

Popular Christmas songs come in a range from the deeply religious (‘Once in Royal David’s City’, ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ Sing’, ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’, ‘Silent Night’ etc) to the deeply commercial (almost anything where the chorus is festooned with a surplus of bells, bells that insist on jingling and jangling and so forth).

Religious or not, I love the stentorian uplift of the best Christmas hymns. My musical knowledge is pretty meagre, but there is an optimism, a promise and an incongruous mix of the stirring and the settling about a lot of the more traditional Christmas hymns are musically constructed.

Then there are the ones which have become popular Christmas hits after a bit of conscious hype. The Brits, as the fillum ‘Love Actually’ reminds us, put a lot of effort into this. Over the years, from memory, they’ve had whatever the hit from ‘Love Actually’was, ‘Stop the Cavalry’, ‘Fairytale of New York’, and err that’s about all I can, or rather all I want to particularly want to remember right now.

The the secular Yuletide toe-tapper I’d like to see go the way of the Angel of Mons*, though, is Snoopy’s Christmas.

I’ve written about it before and won’t dwell on it again.

The only thing I’ll add is that if enough of us are going to insist on adding this effort from the bogusly-named Band of the Royal Guardsmen, and if we’re going to link a toy doggie doll with world war, can we at least have a be a rule which says ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’ can only be played before Pearl Harbour Day on December 7?

This year I swear I heard it mid October. If its going up that early, dammit, it can come down from the second week of December.

https://youtu.be/dJfFA-D4SSQ

I think there also needs to be a rule that whenever the tune is played, everyone has to stop and view the clip of the band, studying closely the pimples on the drummer’s neck.

The band look so utterly naff the enthusiasm for the song will be shredded, in a couple of seasons.

The tune itself is tolerable, I suppose, when it is a novelty hit, and I supposed it is a little less intolerable when you are three, which how old I was when it actually was a hit.

Neither of those apply in my life anymore and I really just want it to stop. No more Snoopy’s Christmas after Pearl Harbour Day on December 7.

But that’s about it for any bans related to Christmas.

Compliments of the season, and all that.

Oh, and, what the hell. It is Christmas, after all. Forget the ban.

Merry Christmas, my friends!

*which didn’t exist, what with being a ghost and everything

The double-edged nature of Christmas

Christmas is always bittersweet.

Ostensibly a festival which gives hope to all human beings, tidings of comfort and joy, all that, it’s never been that kind of happy-clappy thing it appears on the surface.

Partly it is because the double-edged nature is built into the festival, into its myths. The best example perhaps is in three wise men who brought the gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The gift of gold appears straightforward enough: frankincense is more ambivalent and myrrh is an embalming ointment. It prefigures the crucifixion, suffering and the fact this child will be tortured to death.

The most memorable carols are often ineffably sad: ‘Silent Night’ is incredibly melancholy, and as a child, for years, I would avoid it.  Partly because I associated it with an episode of ‘Lassie’ in which Lassie had gone missing and Little Timmy had to sing it in the town choir. I must have been about four when I saw that.

That double-edged nature of the festival carries into the secular songs associated with Christmas, often in bizarre ways.

One of the most popular modern Christmas songs, the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, is a duet between two people at the end of every tether they could have reached the limit of: in a drunk tank, insulting each other with foul epithets (‘you scumbag, you maggot’ ‘you cheap lousy faggot’ etc) and yet managing to be somehow uplifting at the same time.

A more bizarre one is the loved and hated Snoopy’s Christmas: a childish celebration of a mythical duel above World War One’s western front between the lovable cartoon dog Snoopy and the real-life, somewhat cold and probably psychologically disturbed Manfred von Richthofen. Who was, after all, the greatest fighter ace of the First World War, whose specialty was sneaking up behind reconnaissance machines and setting them on fire – and then, if they, as they usually did, fell on his side of the lines, scouring the wreckage for souvenirs amid the bodies.

It is a deeply weird song.

Aussie singer-songwriter Paul Kelly wrote one of the great Christmas songs, about a bloke phoning his family home from prison at Christmas. ‘How To Make Gravy’ is a song which builds and builds, emotionally: I wrote a bit more about it here a few years back. 

Christmas can be a jarring time: it is supposed to be about home, not just about physical home but also the feeling of being with someone you are meant to belong with.

The other double-edged thing about Christmas is it is poignant because you remember previous, happier Christmases with loved ones who aren’t around anymore.

Or who might be there this time but are under a cloud of some sort or other which throws into question whether they will be there next year.

That brings me to another great, non-seasonal Paul Kelly song – Deeper Water, a song following a young boy being taken swimming by his dad, to feeling out of his depth as he grows up and life’s experiences, both joyous and sorrowful, threaten to overwhelm him.

‘The clock moves around 

The child is a joy

But death doesn’t care just who it destroys

The woman gets sick 

Thins down to the bone

She says “where I’m going next,

I’m going alone….”‘

Like I say, it’s not a Christmas song in the least. But it cuts to the heart of the joys and sorrows of life in the same way Christmas can.

Setting the religion aside for those who want to take it literally, I think the great power of Christmas is, in fact, this double-edged nature.

It seems we humans need to mark these apparently incompatible things together, somehow: both joy and sorrow, grief and celebration, silly toy cartoon characters and disturbed real-life sociopaths, alcoholic abusive degradation and  uplift and hope; and, yes, a figure who has come to give hope to all humans who is publicly humiliated and tortured to death.

It is a reminder that we are all these things and that all these things – at some metaphorical level anyway –  are part of our lives.

That joy and suffering are at the core of human experience.

And that both lie at the heart of this strange thing we call love.

The sandwiches are packed, the tea’s in the flask

Reading Nick Hornby over the Christmas break, he wrote of trying to watch a soccer game (or, as the Brits quaintly call it, ‘football’) while his autistic 17-year-old son sat next to him, playing on the iPad.
The son was watching, over and over and over, a particular song from a Postman Pat video.
I glanced over at my 10 year old daughter, who was happily playing the same burst of an ABBA song over and over and over again on her iPad, and felt a bit better about the whole situation.
Not, you understand, that I’m a particular fan of ABBA. Far from it. In fact my siblings, in recalling the intense musical debates of the late 1970s which benighted our household, regard my daughter’s love of the music of the perky, pert Swedes as proof there is a God, and He’s a 1970s disco freak.
This does, you have to admit, throw a new light upon the Almighty and might explain a few hitherto baffling aspects of the Universe.
But it was a nicely laid back Christmas, by and large, and a welcome change for a bit.
Drove to and from the folks’ farm over the break, the daughter in the back. Not ABBA all the way, praise be to the Bell Bottom-wearing Deity in the Sky. She’s quite fond of classical music and we’ve reached a compromise on this. Vivaldi’s Dresden Concerto is four CDs long and it usually gets us to Taupo.
There’s plenty of stops, we pack a thermos of tea, some sandwiches made from Christmas leftovers, and its pleasant trip, mostly.
I should say at this point I love road trips – there’s nothing like getting behind the wheel and just taking off. It’s also a good way to see what is going on outside the Wellington political/media bubble.
And there’s no freaking deadline. So long as we’re back in time for dinner  – and dinnertime can be very flexible at this time of the year – its a casual scoot.
So long as the traffic isn’t too insane.
Now, I haven’t been looking at the news – I’m on holiday and I’m not looking at a newspaper, listening to a radio bulletin, or viewing any Internet news sites for a few weeks.
So I don’t know what the road toll is doing.
But there’s some weird behaviour out there.
The last time I saw New Zealand drivers hit a passing lane on a main road and not speed up was…nope, I’ve never seen it.
Usually that extra lane opens up and it’s like when you break at the start of a billiards game: all the cars speed up and seem to ping off in a great rush.
Not this time.
Not once, not twice, but three times, on the trip back, we reached a passing lane and no one overtook. All vehicles stayed in the left hand lane and hovered at around that 100 km/hr mark.
I saw about three bursts of really daft, homicidally insane behaviour by drivers (two of them in the vicinity of Tokoroa, which is par for the course in my experience)
But mostly people seem to be keeping pretty close to that 100 km/hr limit.
So far, anyway.

In the meantime, here’s the Kinks singing about road trips.