No, really, you shouldn't have
Christmas brings out the odd in artists – and these few seasonal byproducts are perhaps better left unwrapped
A Spaceman Came Travelling
by Chris de Burgh
In this, the pop elf re-envisions the nativity as the tale of an intergalactic space traveller who comes upon a child being born in a manger and then sings at it. There was, of course, a subtext: a celestial visitor with a wonderful song to sing? A wise traveller who would return when “2,000 years had gone by”, possibly with a Christmas hit, a puffy leather jacket, and a mullety hair helmet? De Burgh was clearly predicting his own coming in song. Truly a Chris-mas miracle.
The Junky’s Christmas
William Burroughs’s touching short story, later turned into a Claymation short produced by Francis Ford Coppola, is about a drug addict trying to score opiates on Christmas Day. Once he does this, however, he selflessly gives all of his hard-earned morphine to a young man next door who’s suffering from painful kidney stones. And then, in a Christmas miracle, he experiences a delightful high nonetheless. Strangely moving.
The Star Wars Holiday Special
In 1978 George Lucas permitted a television company to make a variety show called The Star Wars Holiday Special. In it, the heroes of the classic movie visit hirsute growly sidekick Chewbacca’s home planet to celebrate Life Day, the Wookie version of Christmas (possibly changed as a result of “political correctness gone mad”). It features an hour’s worth of weird alien acrobatics, “comedy”, Harrison Ford looking sulky and contractually obliged to be there, and Carrie Fisher singing an ode to Life Day while clearly tripping balls.
At one point C3PO laments the fact he does not have human emotions and thus cannot appreciate Life Day. I envied C3PO’s lack of emotions. George Lucas is on record as saying he would like to see the last copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special found and destroyed. I would go further and advocate the destruction of the civilisation that created it. (Oh, for some sort of Death Star!) However, it’s still better than The Phantom Menace.
Mr Hanky the Christmas Poo
Trey Parker and Matt Stone launched South Park with an epic battle between Jesus and Santa, but in later years they preferred to highlight a different Christmas icon: Mr Hanky, a yuletide turd who, with his seasonal greeting “Hidey Ho!”, penchant for adventure, melodious high-pitched voice and sensitivity to Judaism (he singles out poor Christmas-less Kyle for special attention), leaves gifts for children and brown splotchy stains on the furniture.
The common red-suited version of Santa was devised by marketeers working for the Coca-Cola corporation in 1931 (the intention of the ad was possibly to highlight the effects of drinking too much Coke: premature ageing, obesity and excessive jolliness). This corporate association should taint our obsession with the portly yuletide saint. And yet it does not. However, when in the past Pepsi has tried to reclaim Santa by having him don a blue suit or have him drinking a Pepsi, it feels wrong, like we’re meeting Santa’s evil twin from a parallel universe. Santa drinks Coke, Pepsi. Deal with it.
A child (Macaulay Culkin) is left alone at Christmas to fend for himself against predatory home invaders. In his neglected state he gleefully alternates cartoonish acts of violence with childhood ennui. However, the results are “heartwarming” and there’s no need to get social services involved – even when the neglect is repeated in Home Alone 2, 3 and 4.
Anyone who has spent time in the Netherlands in December will have noticed people running around in black face. These people are not racist, insist the Dutch; they are simply dressed as Black Peter, assistant to Sinterklaas (their version of Santa). He’s just black because he came down the chimney, they say. This doesn’t, of course, explain Black Peter’s curly wig, his Surinamese accent or the fact he was formerly identified as a freed slave. Black Peter, they will stress again, is not racist. In fact, many Dutch people think its racist against the Dutch to say that Black Peter is racist.
School nativity plays
In which two young children pretend to be a husband and wife and have a baby in a stable surrounded by prurient shepherds, voyeuristic wise men and insouciant farm animals.
Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
For some reason this is now considered to be the ultimate Christmas film. It’s Roald Dahl’s tale of a deranged plutocrat who bequeaths a chocolate factory to an urchin in a sadistic. secret millionaire style. Nowadays they call this type of activity “corporate social responsibility”. But do the Oompa Loompas have unions and does Willy Wonka pay all of his tax? His ornate space elevator suggests he may not actually be resident in the UK the whole year round. Philanthropy is all well and good, but we’d prefer our charismatic man-children to pay their taxes.
Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney
In the video for this 1980s pop classic, Paul McCartney re-enacts the first World War truce on Christmas Eve 1914 that saw German and British troops playing football instead of blowing each other up. Both the stuffy, moustachioed Germans and the nonchalant Tommies were played by McCartney himself, thus showing that we aren’t so different from one another because we are all, essentially, Paul McCartney. Terrifying.