Paul Fitzpatrick: London, December 2022
I always thought there were three ghosts in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, but there’s actually four – the ghost of Scrooge’s partner Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Xmas past, present & future.
This ties in neatly with my theory that as we move through the stages of life there are four phases of Christmas….
Stage One – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
I couldn’t say for certain when I first became aware of the magic of Christmas, but when I did, it all seemed too good to be true.
Toys, pantomimes, comic annuals and selection boxes – a seasonal novelty which offered more sugar in a day than you normally consumed in a month….
The Wizzard of Xmas, Roy Wood, wasn’t wrong!
Looking back, you could be excused for thinking that the Santa concept is based on some form of cult indoctrination – ‘believe and you will be rewarded’.
So of course, we believed!
The big fella only popped down our lum once every twelve months but like the Sword of Damocles, his presence was evident throughout the year.
“Your report card better be decent if you’re expecting Santa to visit this year“
Machiavellian in the extreme, but it worked and we all went along for the ride… even in the face of logic.
Then, when we were old enough we took onboard the religious aspects, about the Nativity and the fact that Santa was a moniker for Saint Nicholas a fourth-century do-gooder.
It became obvious that Santa and God had a lot in common – both omnipresent with the power to punish or reward.
Any doubts we harboured were unspoken, there was simply no up-side to being Santa-agnostic…. better to keep schtum, play the long game, and reap the rewards.
Plus, this was our parents and grandparents we were talking about, if we couldn’t trust them, who could we trust??
Stage Two – Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas
But then it happened.
I can’t remember how it happened or exactly what age I was when it happened, but sure enough the cat got out the bag, and any suspicions we had were confirmed – The big fella was a hoax!
In truth, we saw it coming, but it was still unsettling and was exacerbated by the realisation that all the adults we’d trusted in our life had been playing us like fiddles.
For some poor souls it definitely triggered an existential crisis….
“How about God, is he real then”?
“And the Tooth Fairy? Am I still going to get recompensed for all the teeth I’m about to lose due to these delectable selection boxes”?
On the plus side, once we got over the subterfuge, it sank in pretty quickly that not only were most of the seasonal benefits still in place, they were about to be super-charged with interesting new additions like… Xmas discos and the Kelvin Hall Carnival.
Stage Three: It’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off the Nakatomi Plaza
Moving into the teenage years, we faced a different kind of Christmas with Santa out of the picture.
There were some benefits though.
Like discovering the best social lubricant known to (awkward) teenagers, since tequila – Mistletoe!
Mistletoe – a parasitic plant, with poisonous berries and mystical powers that empowered the shyest amongst us to (attempt to) snog someone we’d never spoken to in our life before.
The transformation was incredible.
Upon sight of the berried twigs timid boys transformed into Warren Beatty and demure girls, Mae West.
As we transferred into the workplace leaving our youth club discos behind, December became a malaise of social occasions and you learned pretty quickly that it’s possible to get too much of a good thing.
(btw, whatever happened to Andrews Liver Salts?)
It was also around this stage that you realised that the 25th of December had transformed from being the most exciting day of your young life to one of the dullest.
Stuck indoors with nowhere to go – this was lockdown 70s style, everywhere was closed on Xmas day in the 70s and there was no Scalextric or Ker-Plunk under the Xmas tree to wile away the hours any more.
By this point the essence of Xmas as you knew it, had vanished. There were no more surprises – unless someone thought outside the box and bought you something other than soap-on-a-rope.
Stuck in the house, the new highlight of Xmas day was whatever blockbuster was being premiered on TV that year.
In the mid 70s this would have been a Hollywood star vehicle like The Towering Inferno or The Poseiden Adventure.
In recent years, the Xmas movie of choice for the masses has been Die Hard…
Stage Four: Step (Back) Into Christmas
Then, just as you’re getting used to the idea that Xmas is nothing more than a capitalist racket and the primary cause of ulcers, kids come along, and whether it be your own, or nephews or nieces, you start to experience Christmas through their eyes, witnessing the spontaneous joy in their innocent little faces as they embark their own Christmas journeys.
And before you know it, you’re getting jumpers and gloves for Xmas and you’ve stepped into your parents shoes, where establishing your own Xmas family traditions is part of the gig.
For us it’s the usual stuff – watching It’s A Wonderful Life, playing Phil Spector’s Xmas album, listening to the Queens speech and being a bit too competitive in the Xmas-day, family quiz.
I’m guessing the four phases of Christmas are still relevant in some form or another for millennials, although I’m pretty sure that the digital age and the new licensing laws have moved things on a bit from the 70s.
What’s always been around however is Christmas Songs, and the 70s produced a few decent tunes.
My go-to comes from Xmas 73, it’s not the deepest or the most meaningful, but it takes me back to a happy place and encapsulates the season of goodwill.
“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“
No Surprise then that Elton makes it onto my playlist of Xmas songs I listened to in the 70s.
In the words of Noddy Holder…. It’s CHRISTMAS!!