Wreck the Halls!

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Wreck the Halls!

Now that we are up to the last couple of days before Christmas celebrations may properly begin, I withdraw my objections to terrible Christmas music playing in shopping malls everywhere. Well, actually, I don't. I just change my objections from “too soon,” to “too much conformist milkslop.”

Christmas has become too sickly sweet. And I don't mean candy cane. I mean peace on earth, goodwill toward men, and so on. These truly are noble ambitions, which is why the western world chucked them long ago. These days it's “let's not talk about all the wars today”, and “let's pretend to get along with all men even if Uncle Bill is a misogynist homophobe.” Reality is temporarily replaced with nostalgic black and white Christmas movies.

In my family, having a Type A personality (aggressive, competitive, I-am-always-right) seems to be hereditary. So when grandma ordered us all to gather at yuletide, cramming half a dozen such people under one roof, we all knew chaos was bound to ensue. Someone would try to find a party game that would not inspire competition. I can assure you there are none. After the life-and-death contest was fought out and the accusations of cheating adjudicated, invariably someone would not speak to the rest of the family until the following Christmas gathering. “Goodwill toward men” meant “I am un-disowning you from last year, without admitting that you didn't cheat.”

I grew up thinking this was normal. And I love my family for it.

I loved the sheer honesty of our Christmases. We were simply too bull-headed outspoken to fake the syrupy stuff for very long. I also grew up listening to the Sesame Street Christmas LP on continuous replay for the entire Christmas break (since it was the only Christmas record we had). My favorite number was Herry Monster singing Wreck the halls! with boughs of holly, fa la la... (Which may have been borrowed from The Three Stooges.)

Until recently, I thought this destructive honesty approach to Christmas was just a weird piece of baggage from my youth. Then one day I happened to look up past Christmas traditions. Former celebrations, being based on pagan saturnalia-type festivals, were not the teeny long weekend parties we do now. The twelve days of Christmas were a twelve day-long blowout party wherein the church expressly forbade fasting (dieters take note, you may not start New Year's resolutions till 6th of January). Plum pudding, roast goose, wassail (mulled ale or cider), and other heart-unfriendly fayre were the expected menu. This tradition we have faithfully preserved, with the addition of chocolate. But there is one other important tradition we have let slide.

The entertainment during the twelve days of Christmas was supposed to be rampantly subversive. It included pantomimes (rather than serious plays) in which the leading man was played by a woman in drag and the role of older dame by a cross-dressing man. The plot of these plays would include poking fun at all respected institutions and authorities, pointing out their hypocrisy. On the last day, everyone ate a Christmas pudding with a bean in it. Whichever peasant got the bean was crowned Lord of Misrule until midnight, and was served by the actual lords and ladies for the evening. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night includes all of this since it was intended to be performed on this particular evening.

Instead of enshrining this tradition in the hallowed place it deserves, the establishment (tired of being ridiculed) bought up tv-land and now feed us a steady diet of homogenized inoffensive movie re-runs.

In the type A personality Christmas tradition of my family, I am officially outraged.

The twelve nights of Christmas are here! I should be seeing the queerest of queer films and subversive anti-big-government indie movies. This should be Occupy The Theatre time. It's A Wonderful Life should only be allowed to air if a sequel or re-make is made where Clarence the angel comes out of the closet (because wings, really??) and James Stewart's character glitter bombs a politician at some point.

We of the LGBT actually sometimes celebrate Christmas like this. We buck the “everyone pretend to get along” thing by using Christmas college vacation as a good time to come out to our families. We gather queer friends around us at New Year's and party in the most un-hetero way possible. Girls kiss girls under the mistletoe. Our New Year's resolutions may involve becoming more of an activist protester. And the irony is that people call this non-traditional.

Please, all of you, have a very traditional Christmas!

Comments [3]

Jess Glenny's picture

I've noticed that

while cross-dressing dames are still going strong in panto (this year we saw a Cinderella with three of them at the Theatre Royal Stratford East), girl-as-prince seems to be going out of fashion. I'm not sure why. The dames are always comic figures. Maybe it's OK to have cross-dressing if it's ridiculous, but not if the cross-dresser is the hero. The girl-princes I've seen were always quite pretty and clearly female. I'd love to see a proper butch version!

Jess Glenny's picture

Pantomime is

still going strong over here. And it is still a bit subversive. I'm with you, less syrup, more subversion.

Conlite's picture

Pantomime plays are one of my

Pantomime plays are one of my fondest childhood memories.  Especially one butch Robin Hood actress singing "The Power of Love" to a beautiful Maid Marion!

Some of the youtube comments for that 12th Night play criticized it as "...nothing but pantomime."  As if that were a bad thing, or not what Shakespeare intended!