Father Christmas

Raymond Briggs’ 1973 portrayal of a decidedly human Santa Claus, Father Christmas gets 71PDRDWHJVL._SS500_.gifmy vote as my favourite Christmas book ever. In this graphic novella, Briggs turns the traditional stereotypical view of Santa — jolly, benevolent, good natured — on its head.

Awoken from a dream about sunning himself on a tropical beach, Santa greets Christmas Eve with a mild curse: “Bloomin’ Christmas here again!”. This a very modern Santa, who grumbles about the weather (“bloomin’ snow!”) his herd (“bloomin’ deer!) and the demands of his work (“gettin’ a bloomin’ cold, now!”).  He’s a one-man show: with only a couple of reindeer to help him, and no mention of Mrs. Claus, we follow our man as he readies himself for the biggest day of the year: Christmas.   He flies around the United Kingdom delivering presents, visiting cottages and caravans, and ending, appropriately, at Buckingham Palace.  Gifts delivered, he settles down to a nice dinner, a lovely nip of brandy, a cigar (I know!) and peruses travel catalogs for warmer climes,  which is just what you’d probably want to do too, if you were in his boots.

There are few words in this book (and most of them are the word “bloomin’!”) but Briggs’ colourful and evocative illustrations more than make up for the absence of text.  I’ve blogged about this book before, at least in its movie form, so great is my affection for it.  Father Christmas appears to be out of print here in Canada, but it is available from Amazon.com.uk. and abebooks.com


Bloomin’ Busybodies and the Sleds They Rode In On

The Canadian Library Association released its list of most frequently challenged books last week, in advance of Banned Books Week in the US. Included in the list are other forms of media – DVDs and CDs — which were challenged by public library patrons across Canada in 2009 as being unsuitable for distribution.

Reading the list, I have to ask:

Are you kidding me?

It almost goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that I find the idea of “banning” books abhorrent, especially from public libraries, which should encourage the free flow of ideas and information. This will necessarily mean that there will be books available in the library which I may not wish to read, because I find the subject matter disturbing, distasteful, or just plain boring. There may be books which I may feel my children should not read – yet — or should read with me, so that I can provide them with context or information to help them understand what they’re reading. That’s a parent’s job. But I don’t presume that I have the right to dictate what someone else should be reading, and the idea that I could march into my local public library and demand that they remove a book (or movie, or CD) from the shelf is a concept I find quite unpalatable and problematic.

Which is why I find the Canadian Library Association’s list is so fascinating. Who are these people who have such trouble with Dora and Diego teaching Spanish? Was it the line, “Dum ditty, Dum ditty, Dum dum dum” that caused someone to cast aspersions on Hand Hand Fingers Thumb? Whose favourite movie was so poorly reviewed in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide 2010 Edition that they’d go so far as to demand that the book be removed from circulation?

To be clear, there are books on that list on subjects I find to be in poor taste, but I acknowledge that taste is subjective. You may think Tila Tequila is fascinating. I’d rather undergo root canal than read about her, but I’m not going to tell you how to waste your own time.

But there’s one DVD on the list whose inclusion made me just plain grumpy.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. Bloomin’ ‘eck, my sister and I loved this book when we were kids. This Father Christmas is no milquetoast, benevolent patriarch. No, he is a bit of a curmudgeon, with a fondness for a good pud’, a good brandy, and a warm fire after a long night of delivering presents. He’s familiar, approachable in his ordinariness – do you know how to get presents into a mobile home? – and even a bit human, which is a wonderful thing for an essentially magical figure to be.

The movie takes one step further toward irreverence.  Having had enough with the “bloomin’ snow” and “bloomin’ deer”, Father Christmas (voiced by Mel Smith) retreats to France, Scotland and Las Vegas on holiday. He eats and drinks far too much. He gambles. He wishes for a “proper bloomin’ lavatory” (and is in frequent need of one). He’s desperate to leave his Father Christmas persona behind, but fails spectacularly as folk recognize him wherever he goes, no matter how hard he tries to dress like a “local”. The movie  is much less charming than the book, but it is still amusing, and as I understand it, a holiday classic in the UK.

It’s not a movie for the smallest children, the ones who still believe in Santa, although much of the humour would be lost on them anyway. But certainly, any child whose belief in Santa has ebbed would be able to handle its bawdy, but not outrageous, humour. So why was it challenged? I can only assume it’s because people believe there’s no need for any vision of Santa that strays from the Clement C. Moore version. And that’s why this challenge makes me grumpy, because clearly, there’s an adult out there who thinks that Santa Claus (the fictional character, not St. Nicholas) is real. That any portrayal of him as other than the kindly, jolly old elf is an offence. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll make Santa’s naughty list. Either that, or some parent didn’t bother to read the DVD case before plopping their pre-schooler down in front of the TV, and now they’re looking for someone to blame now that their child no longer believes. In either instance, I do hope which ever library handled this challenge sent this patron on their way with a box of Quality Street, a nip of brandy, and a wish that they have a Happy Christmas. Even this version of Father Christmas would approve of that.