I couldn’t say for certain when I first became aware of the magic of Christmas, but when I did, it all seemed a bit too good to be true.
Toys, pantomimes, comic annuals and a treat called selection boxes – a seasonal novelty which offered more confection in a day than you were normally allowed to consume in a month….
Roy Wood & Wizzard weren’t wrong!
On reflection, the whole Santa concept was akin to some form of ‘cult-indoctrination’ – ‘If you believe in him you will be rewarded’.
So of course, we believed!
The big fella only popped down our lum once every twelve months but his presence was felt throughout the year, like the Sword of Damocles
“Santa won’t be receiving your letter, if you don’t go to bed”
“Your report card better be good if you’re expecting Santa to visit this year“
It was all a bit Machiavellian but we were conditioned to go along with the narrative – to believe… even in the face of logic.
At some point we learned about the Nativity and were informed that Santa was a moniker for Saint Nicholas a fourth-century do-gooder, at this point I realised that Santa and God had a lot in common – they were both omnipresent, they had lots of helpers and they had the power to punish or reward, based on your behaviour or belief system.
This holy connection further endorsed the sentiment that there was absolutely no upside in being Santa-agnostic. Ours was not to reason why, it was simply to keep schtum, play along, and reap the rewards.
Phase Two: What A Fool Believes
But then it happened.
I can’t remember how it happened or exactly what age I was when it happened (probably older than I think, perhaps 9 or 10?), but sure enough the genie escaped from the bottle and all our suspicions were confirmed – The big fella was a hoax!
We kind of saw it coming, but it was still a blow and was exacerbated by the realisation that all the adults we’d trusted in our life had been playing us like fiddles.
For some kids it triggered an existential crisis – “Is God real”? “How about the Tooth Fairy? Am I still going to get recompensed by her for all the teeth I’m about to lose due to these damn selection boxes”?
Some folks reading this will think ‘how could you be so old and not know the truth about Santa’? but we’re talking about a much simpler, more sheltered time here – social media and satellite tv hadn’t even featured on ‘Tomorrow’s World’ yet!
On the plus side, once you got over the subterfuge you soon realised that all the upsides of Christmas were still in place and were shortly going to be supplemented with exciting new additions like… the Kelvin Hall Carnival & Circus and Xmas discos.
Also, now that you were in the loop, so to speak, you couldn’t help but feel a bit more grown up, which at the time felt like progress, but perhaps ignorance IS bliss…..
Phase 3: It’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off the Nakatomi Plaza
With Santa out of the picture we faced a different kind of Christmas.
Gone were the cute letters to Santa, and the trips to his grotto… on the plus side we were introduced to the best social lubricant known to teenagers (until tequila came along!) – a miraculous white berried twig with mystical powers that gave us the confidence to snog the girl or boy we’d fancied from afar for the past 6 months but had never spoken to.
As we left school and moved into the workplace the festive season evolved into a malaise of parties, nights out, and social occasions, which for the most part was fun, although you can get too much of a good thing.
The down-side to phase-3, (hangovers apart), was that Xmas day itself changed from being the best day of the year to probably the dullest… as you found yourself stuck indoors with nowhere to go – this was lockdown 70s style, everywhere was closed on Xmas day!
By this point the essence of Xmas as you remembered it, had vanished. There were no surprises anymore – unless someone bought you something other than the customary soap-on-a-rope or Aramis, and the highlight of Xmas day was whatever blockbuster was being premiered on TV that year.
The ultimate phase-3 movie (and some say the ultimate Xmas movie) Die Hard!
Phase 4: Step (Back) Into Christmas
And then just as you’re getting used to the idea that Xmas is nothing more than a capitalist racket, you have kids, nephews, nieces, god-children of your own, experience Christmas through their eyes, and before you can say Peter Pan, it becomes a magical time of the year again.
From my daughters Nurse Nancy outfit to my boys first pair of football boots or Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWF action figures, the joy in their little faces on Xmas morning was priceless and of course we wanted to make Christmas a special time for them…. everything it was for us, plus more.
Like most families, we have Xmas traditions which we still try to maintain to this day – Watching It’s A Wonderful Life on Xmas eve (which IS the best Xmas movie!); Playing Phil Spector’s Xmas album on Christmas morning; and being a bit too competitive in the annual Xmas-day post-lunch quiz.
Up until last years covid-hit-Christmas the five of us had managed to spend every Xmas day together…. hopefully we’ll be able to get back on track this Christmas, Omicron permitting.
I’m guessing the 4 phases of Christmas are still relevant in some form today, although I’m pretty sure that the digital age and the new licensing laws have progressed the landscape quite a bit from our experiences in the 60s/70s.
What’s always been around however, is Christmas Songs. My favourite comes from Xmas 73, it’s not the coolest or the most meaningful, lyrically, but it’s a great little Xmas pop song from someone who was at the peak of their powers.
Every time l hear it, it encapsulates the season of goodwill and takes me back to a happy place….
“So merry Christmas one and all There’s no place I’d rather be Than asking you if you’d oblige Stepping into Christmas with me“