Last Sunday I attended two musical concerts themed for Christmas, one of them performed by a big band, the other by a gospel choir with orchestral accompaniment. It was a good way to appreciate the huge repertoire of Christmas tunes – from the intensely sacred to the profoundly secular. It was also, incidentally, a chance to admire the variety of personal adornments worn by many as an expression of their enthusiasm for the festive season. I am talking of Santa hats, elf caps, antlers, Christmas jumpers and the like. These accessories, seen dispassionately, look ridiculous on anyone, but are nonetheless a light-hearted expression of the party atmosphere at this time of year. It strikes me, however, that there is a darker aspect to them – and to the jumpers in particular.
Christmas jumpers make me feel – jumpy. Their designs shout the message “Christmas is fun!” and defy anyone to disagree. It seems to me that those who sport them are throwing down a challenge to join in, get knitwear-competitive or else face being ostracised and condemned as a spoilsport, sour-faced misery-guts. The thing is that, while I can appreciate the ironic humour, the intentional tackiness and/or the naive enthusiasm of some of the designs, I see them all as endorsing the underlying vision of Christmas as a prolonged period of over-indulgence. If I like Christmas at all, it is the version remembered from my youth – a visit to midnight mass and a couple of days of treats and family togetherness – not the present-day orgy of consumerism, encouraged and sustained by the retail and credit industries intent on testing the season of goodwill to the deepest recesses of our pockets. Therefore when I came across a chap this week wearing a seriously anti-Christmas jumper I congratulated him. Admittedly, he was not at much risk of being derided, since he was selling cinema tickets at the local arthouse, a place that teems with liberals and free-thinkers: but his protest was no less noble for that. Besides, it may be that he wore it prominently on the tram, travelling home with the shoppers.
I’ve bought quite a few cinema tickets lately, being eager to keep abreast of the new releases prior to leaving the country for a prolonged and determined spell of Christmas-avoidance. I enjoyed all of them, including two that appeared to have typos in the titles: Happy End, which I thought lacked the gerundive -ing, and Good Time, which seemed to cry out for the plural. Not everyone will agree that these titles are grammatically unexpected; however, they are misleading concerning their respective plots, which are, in fact, so full of mishaps and bad behaviour that both films could be described as “disaster movies” – if only that term had not been appropriated previously by the Hollywood blockbuster industry. Another film – James Franco’s The Disaster Movie – also has a misleading title, since it is not about earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or dystopian outcomes of any sort. In fact, it tells the true story of the making of a movie that was so bad it failed to attract an audience.
Finally, there was Menache, the story of a widower stuck in a low-paying job and doing his best to bring up his adolescent son – a difficult situation. His real predicament, however, is defined by the fact that, being a member of a religious community governed strictly by its traditions, there is pressure on him to conform to the rules: he must either get a new wife or allow his son to be brought up by relatives. The widower wants neither option and argues the case for keeping his son, knowing all along that the system is adamant. His dilemma is serious – the real-life equivalent of, say, accepting that one’s choice is not whether to wear a Christmas jumper, but which design to choose.