Alone for Christmas? Are you mad, bad or sad?
Why is it I can be perfectly reconciled to the idea of solitude for fifty weeks of the year, yet for the last two, become a morose, weeping mess? Telling myself what a bad person I must be that I’ve ended up with no one to kiss beneath the mistletoe; driving myself mad with the memories of Christmases gone by (because even if I was miserable, at least I wasn’t ALONE); and desperately trying to avoid the dreaded questions of how or where I’m spending it and the subsequent looks of pity that conceal the actual judgement, “what a sad-o.” I’ll tell you why: it’s because everywhere you look at this time of the year the message that is wrapped up in shiny paper and tied with a big fat bow is: spend time (and lots of money) with ‘loved ones’. Yes, that most nauseating two-word phrase. Occasionally this is reinforced with depictions of lone wolves howling and growling while civilised society sing along to Mariah or Slade. This blog is dedicated to some of those lone wolves.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest might seem an odd choice to include in a festive themed blog; among all those birds in the 12 Days carol there’s not a sniff of the usurping fowl. But one of the most poignant scenes in the movie has to be the Christmas ‘party’ which is of course abruptly cut short by Turkle and his fear of his superiors. The morning after, Billy Bibbit is initially proud of his brief liaison with Candy Starr, but it is the very act of seeking the human connection enjoyed by couples and families at Yuletide that is the catalyst for the film’s tragic ending. Ratched’s pious demeanor and oh-so-easy dismissal of the men’s carnal needs sends the message loud and clear: madness and love are just not compatible. And that Mac could ever believe otherwise, well, that just proves his madness beyond doubt.
Leaping from the sublime to the ridiculous, my next mad pick is Chim Chim Cher-Eastenders. Who can forget that Christmas Special when Den served up divorce papers as Angie’s ‘dying’ gift? There she was, lent on the bar of the Queen Vic, necking G&T’s with Pat Butcher; with that inflammable perm and those Dynasty-defying shoulder pads, you’d think nothing could rattle her. But under that synthetic exterior there was an hysterical hag of medieval proportions. What wouldn’t Angie do to keep her man? And what wouldn’t Den do to twist the knife of rejection? Like Burton and Taylor before them, who was more deranged is difficult to say, but for single viewers tucking into their microwaved turkey it must have been a hammer blow.
Surely one of the most tragic television breakdowns though has to be that of This Is England’s Lol, left to raise Milky’s daughter alone while Woody puts on a cardigan and settles for a semi-detached Christmas with Jennifer, she takes an overdose and spends it in hospital. But for one pitiful paper-chain hanging above the doors of the lounge, you wouldn’t know it was Christmas time at all. Because there are no families, no smug married couples; just a bunch of disconnected souls and a saintly nurse, who let’s face it, must be madder than they are to believe Catholicism could fix the ills of Britain circa 1988.
If Helen is saintly but mad, Mrs Deagle, the caroler-hating villain of Gremlins fame, is just plain bad. Alongside The Grinch and Bad Santa, she epitomises malevolence because she refuses to join in with celebrations. Imagine living in that house, all that space, and just filling it up with cats. No family. No tree, no garlands, no presents, no visitors around the hearth drinking eggnog. If you don’t celebrate Easter or Halloween or Shrove Tuesday, you may be forgiven; but if you don’t like Christmas – well, there must be something wrong with you. In the same way there was something wrong with Hitler or Chairman Mao. No Christmas Spirit equals no heart which of course equals no friends, no spouse and no family.
On the other side of the coin you have those characters who just long for someone to spend it with. Their sadness is born out of the Great Soul Mate Swindle. For years I watched Harry Met Sally while my indifferent exes occupied themselves in the most unchristmassy pursuits (tidying the garage, arranging their power tools, alphabetising their vinyl collection – anything but watch THAT. AGAIN). And I would sob inconsolably, wondering why they didn’t love me like he loved her. If only I could find that person that loved this movie like I did, who would even watch it with me over the phone if we were ever separated…
Fortunately, the Harry Met Sally years have passed, but there is one film I still watch every year and I still find it every bit as moving and that’s The Snowman. If you want to kill Christmas for your kids, sit them in front of this cheery little tale. A young boy and his fleeting relationship with a snowman that comes to life is surely the most perfect allegory for coming of age and realising that life is ultimately a series of disappointments in cinematic history. But why does he form such an attachment? Ever asked yourself that one? He’s an ONLY child. He’s ALONE in his childhood world and this ultimately makes Christmas a SAD time.
Then there’s poor Therese who is sad because the object of her desire, Carol, is surely unobtainable (an All American 50’s housewife and mother). But Carol is sad too; she’s trapped in a loveless marriage. There’s a beautifully shot scene in Todd Haynes’ adaptation of The Price Of Salt: snow flakes flutter about to the tune of a gentle piano refrain as Therese takes snap shots of Carol, purchasing a tree. That symbol of family Christmas that says the two can never be together; the cross cutting from Therese alone to Carol interacting with others emphasises the fact that this pair are from different worlds, worlds that can never coexist. The camera also holds symbolic meaning: Therese is documenting life, not living it. She is an outsider, viewing love through a lens but unable to experience it.
I’m coming to the end of this blog now, because honestly, I’m depressing myself, let alone any readers I may have left at this point. But before I sign off, a few honourable mentions: Bridget Jones, that most singularly festive of all singletons; Judy Garland’s rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, sung to console Tootie, but that longing is clearly inspired by her soon to be left beau-next-door; Wham’s Last Christmas, reminding us all that a heart is for life, not just the holidays. And how could I have missed out dear old Ebenezer? Truthfully, I couldn’t decide which section to place him in, since he starts out SAD, left to spend Christmas at school by his cruel father; turns BAD, hating Christmas day above all others for denying him the chance to turn a profit; and is almost sent MAD by the visitation of the ghosts.
My happiest ever Christmas was the year Dad bought us a Commodor 64. Me and my brother (and maybe sister… but I don’t think her little six-year-old thumbs were strong enough to grapple with that joystick) spent hours and hours playing Icicle Works, Treasure Island, Fire Ant and Exorcist. Most of my nostalgia is entirely misplaced; memory is a Great Deceiver, is it not? But I honestly think they were the best times. It was short lived; I came of age and convinced myself that meant I had to find a mate. And at no time of year was this a more pressing necessity than Christmas. I have spent some behaving in a most unsuitable manner, desperately throwing myself at anyone unnatached; some cohabiting, but definitely not in the soul mate sense, with exes; some pragmatically, working behind a bar, for which I was paid to not feel lonely; and one utterly broken.
Last year I spent Christmas in denial; I decorated. I put on the radio and I painted all day. And when I sat down at tea time, I didn’t feel bloated, I didn’t feel sad or bad or mad: I felt tired. In a good way. In a way that allowed me to watch some festive TV and fall asleep, like I do after a work day. Just like any other day of the year.