My favorite Christmas song, hands down, is Father Christmas by The Kinks. A weird choice perhaps for a middle-aged suburban American white woman, but there it is. Unlike most Christmas songs it is neither warm nor fuzzy. It is not in any way religious (unless anarchy is your religion). It’s in-your-face and snarky; it’s dark and loud. While certainly not full of the Christmas spirit, it is full of truth and anger. There are no visions of sugarplums. It conjures, instead, legions of poor little thugs telling Santa what they really need: money. And threatening to “beat [him] up if you don’t hand it over”.
The story is told through the eyes of a guy who dressed up as Father Christmas outside a department store. It opens with, When I was small I believed in Santa Claus/even though I knew it was my Dad. This person goes on to become a department store Santa Claus and recounts his experience. He says, the last time I played Father Christmas/I stood outside a department store/A gang of kids came over and mugged me/And knocked my reindeer to the floor. No question about it… this experience soured him on playing Father Christmas ever again.
It’s about being poor in a land of plenty. It was the first Christmas song that I ever heard that brought me back to the times in my life when we did not have much. Not having enough to eat, seeing your parents struggle is difficult any time of the year, but it is so much more evident at Christmastime. When Ray Davies sings, Give my Father a job cause he needs one/he’s got lots of mouths to feed, well that line just about kills me; its rawness and honesty get me every time I hear it.
On the other end of the spectrum, only four short years later, The Kinks released Better Things; so hopeful and melodious. It’s the anti-Father Christmas. I hear it a lot around the holidays (it has always gotten far more radio play than Father Christmas), usually around New Year’s. I love them both. When I hear one I cannot help but think about the other. I think what appeals to me is the idea that darkness and light, despair and hope, live together in each of us. So, here’s to putting the bitterness behind you! Happy Christmas in (almost) July!