In the Bleak Midwinter: Part 3
by The Boy
In some ways the ultimate song of and about Christmas melancholy is Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas. In three verses, intertwined with the Troika section from Profkiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite, Lake boils the imagist nonsense out of the fabric of Christmas, in pursuit of an honest, straightforward message that speaks more of our lifelong need than our immediate desire. Somehow, like Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman (pic right), Lake manages to hint at the struggle to feel the magic of Christmas as an adult – to regain that sense of wonderment once it’s been colored by a deeper understanding of human frailty and corruption. The fact that by the song’s end the narrator, if you will, has managed to regain that sense of the magic of Christmas is hardly an uplifting climax. Because once the canvas has been painted black, you can’t paint a blue sky over it.
I don’t actually think that’s true in art terms. I don’t paint, though, so I don’t know.
It’s not an entirely consistent song – it isn’t clear, from start to finish, what it is that Lake finds so abhorrent about the Christmas he has been sold – and the fact that he ends with the line ‘the Christmas we get we deserve’ is a bit odd. I mean, if I have a crap Christmas, couldn’t that be because I’m poor, or because I’ve been shot by my best friend or because I’ve lost the use of my ears due to working very hard in mines?
But melancholy was never entirely neat, perfected and comprehensible, by its very nature it tends towards idiosyncratic expressions and undiluted bitterness. But Lake’s song is certainly indicative of a general trend in melancholy Christmas songs to pull back the veneer of the joyous, perfect Christmas as an intelligent, compassionate creature and understand our reasoning better. Why do we force up this light from the depths of darkness?
These songs, maybe more than your regular upbeat Chrimbo tunes, get at a fundamental, oft-mistook truth: Christmas is a communal expression of hope.
May your Christmas be a hopeful one.