Advent Calender #7: Father Christmas

In the final last minute instalment of advent goodness, Jack Brindelli looks at what the man himself says about the spirit of the season, looking at the animated film Father Christmas.

I’ve been recovering from flu over the festive period – so even though I’ve had so many glorious contributors from other writers over the past week, I am completely blooming knackered. But nothing my aching, moaning body has been through could be comparable to the suffering of one sacrificial seasonal figure. That’s right, our one and true miracle worker, a bearded bringer of peace and joy without whom the day could not happen. Father Christmas. What – Jesus – why would I want to talk about that new testament Bono?

No – Father Christmas, particularly in the 1991 classic animation based upon Raymond Briggs’ book of the same name deserves the credit. Well sort of. If you’ve ever spoken to your parents about the subject after a certain age, a begrudging yet loving cynicism creeps into their voice, as they describe the ‘magic’ of the jolly old elf – who was of course them the whole time. *SPOILER – there is no real Père Noël, just like Rev McPhee said to the Stalham Academy…*

And that’s exactly what you get from director Dave Unwin’s Father Christmas (voiced by the late Mel Smith) – not so much a supernatural force for justice, but just a regular man. A bit of a grumpy old man actually, who steals towels from hotels and swears up a storm on holiday (well it’s just the word “Blooming”, but it proved too much for the American version which replaced the colloquialism with “Merry”). Whilst taking the rest of the year off to prepare for the big night, we also see him contract violent diarrhoea on his adventures in France, get shit-faced in Scotland, suffering from the subsequent hang-over, and lose a fat stack of money in Vegas. Glorious stuff.

But when he heads for home and goes about his work, we see his other side. He might grumble and gripe, but every time he sees the angelic face of a sleeping child he leaves gifts for, he remembers why he is doing what he does. Not as some weak ploy for being good not bad, so much as love. Unconditional love, like any parent would. The character painted by Raymond Briggs is a long way from the ‘Santa’ popularised relentlessly by popular culture. ‘Santa’ is some bizarre unfeeling entity who bureaucratically hands out gifts to those children under his surveillance he deems worthy – that guy would probably fit well at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Father Christmas here isn’t all seeing, and he sure as hell isn’t all knowing though, he’s refreshingly human, inclined to balls things up and regret it slightly in the morning; endearingly cynical, a lovable cantankerous old git. That part of him that mutters protests beneath his flowing beard is what makes his efforts so meaningful. He isn’t some bizarre magical god who gets things done with ease. He knows it’s a bit of a pain in the arse to put a smile on the face of every child in the world, but he still does it.

He is the distilled essence of what a parent (or guardian, lets be fair) should be when all is said and done. And for those lucky enough, even when you don’t have a pot to put the proverbial in, let alone coins (believe me, mine were there abouts), Christmas is real – and the feelings of love and happiness embodied by Father Christmas are as real as the heaps of letters he is genuinely sent every year (by the way, I worked at Royal Mail at Christmas once – if you were wondering he lives in Belfast, not Lapland).

That’s why I’m posting this as the final advent calender instalment, late on Christmas night anyway. Because at the end of the day when we all bask in the warmth the company of those we love brings, we should always be ready to give thanks for the ones who made it all happen.

Father Christmas…

No you berk – your parents.
So, y’know, thanks. x

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