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THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS - PART TWO

18-12-2006

If you were reading The Stirrer over the weekend you might have been persuaded that the realspiritof the seasonis encapsulated by hours spent listening out for Wedding Present tracks on John Peel's Festive Fifty. Not so, says Lynn Hawthorne, who reckons it's more of a Noddy Holder time of year.

Never having considered myself to be a ‘God-botherer', I was somewhat surprised to find myself at Midnight Mass last Christmas Eve. The vicar, not usually considered the most scintillating of speakers, took his place in the pulpit and, in sonorous voice, intoned:

“So this is Christmas

And what have you done?

Another year over

And a new one's just begun….”

So John Lennon, the cynical prodder of establishment, has made it mainstream and is being used as a religious text. What would he have thought of it all?

The relevance of the ‘Christmas song' struck me again the other day, when, in an attempt to get festive whilst drowning under the sea of cards I'd yet to write, I plonked on a cable music channel. I was horrified!

The vocal gymnastics of the ultimate diva, Mariah Carey, warbling “All I Want for Christmas Is You” whilst interfering with a reindeer were bad enough, but The Cheeky Girls having a ‘Cheeky Christmas'? P-lease!

And to cap it all, two new releases for 2006: Cliff Richard with his “21st Century Christmas” in direct opposition to Scouse scamp Ricky Tomlinson's “Christmas? My Arse!” Is nothing sacred?!!!

Whatever happened to kitsch and camp glitter and face painting, silver and Lurex? Are the glory days of Roy Wood and Wizzard, Mud, David Essex, Shakin' Stevens, Jonah Lewie, David Bowie and Bing Crosby (now there's a combination you never thought you'd see!) and - dare I say it? Wham! - lost forever? It seems so.

Today's festive offerings pale into insignificance in comparison, because they are instantly forgettable. (Proper Crimbo by Avid Merrion/Bo Selecta did at least have a go, I suppose, but I say that grudgingly).

The older songs, although we've had longer to get to know them, were ‘catchy' and easy to sing along to. As soon as you hear the opening bars of any of those songs, you can immediately launch into the verse and even remember the segment on Top of the Pops, I daresay.

And the quality of composition bears out when you hear Tony Christie belting out a swing version of Slade's ‘Merry Christmas Everybody ‘ that actually works well.

Our idea of fun has obviously changed. In the seventies, we were happy to drape tinsel around our shoulders as well as over the picture frames (‘though Pat in Eastenders still does) in glorious gaudy tackiness.

The family gathering was central to our celebrations, but with the breakdown of the family unit, we are now more isolationist, having several smaller groupings rather than one large knees up.

Our acceptance of dysfunction is highlighted by the popularity of The Pogues'/ Kirsty MacColl's Fairytale of New York, where the drunken argument is viewed affectionately rather than with mistrust. Perhaps it gets away with it by playing on the Celtic maudlin sentimentality, whiffing of nostalgia rather then Jameson's.

There is also a growing debate about the secularisation of Christmas, with employers being afraid to display Christmas decorations in case it offends those of other faiths; this seems to be spreading to the music world too.

No longer will anyone put out songs like Mary's Boy Child and When A Child Is Born, which link things directly to Christian values and beliefs. Isn't that what Christmas is actually about?

Perhaps we grew up when Band Aid released Do They Know It's Christmas? The simple pleasures of hanging your stocking on the wall have been replaced by the wider social context of poverty and malnutrition and knowing more has induced a guilt complex that is new to us.

Thinking of others is no bad thing and is part of the Christian message after all, but it does rather take the pleasure out of the festive feast, putting us at odds with ourselves. It's also questionable whether the feelng inspired by that song has lasted.

In a time of increasing commercialism and credit-fuelled financial distress, when we are judged by what we spend rather than what we share, every time we hear "Do They Know..." do we think about its message or merely sing along blindly because we know the words?

Christmas is traditionally a time of cheer and goodwill, so let's launch a campaign to put the fun and enjoyment back into it, rather than focus on the grind of work and shopping.

Therefore, I am setting a challenge. You, dear readers, have a whole year to compose the perfect Christmas song! It must be catchy and memorable, have a strong chorus and be full of fun. The best have a chance of being published in a little-known but widely circulated magazine called Read The Music, dedicated to music through poetry, song and story.

Send entries to mooncrow@tiscali.co.uk Don't worry if you can't write music - there's a lyrics page where people can offer to compose on your behalf, or you may have a tune in your head and no words. You can meet your match!

All that remains for me to do is wish you the compliments of the season…er, that's

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