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Things I Learnt This Christmas



So here are some loosely assembled thoughts I have had and observations I made over this Yuletide season, my friends.

I like Christmas. I’m an Atheist, but I still enjoy the celebration. (Stay your keyboards, all those who would explain that Christmas was originally a pagan festival that Christians appropriated. Fine. And while we’re at it, English was a very different language before the Norman Conquest. And Neanderthals were once more successful than Homo Sapiens. There’s even evidence to suggest they invented line dancing to while away the cold nights of the Ice Age.)

On the evening before Christmas Eve, I went up to the very unbusy Garden City, Booragoon, to buy a few things. I ran into several people I knew through my last job. One was a friend who was employed by the City of Perth to be one of the Santa Clauses to ride The Santa Train. Whether you were on The Joondalup line, the Armadale line or out at Mandurah; if you were on the train in the fortnight before Christmas, you could meet Santa.

My friend, the part-time Father Christmas, has two kids, the oldest, a son, is 11 and the youngest, a daughter, is 5. I asked how he had dealt with keeping his identity secret from her. He said in previous years that whenever the job was mentioned in front his daughter, the codename he and his wife would use was “Fat X”. Because there was simply too much Kris Kringling going on this year, with the suit having to be hung out frequently when it was cleaned, they decided to explain to their daughter that there are some people who have to dress up as Santa, as a job, during Christmas.  “So you blew the whistle on yourself,” I said, “Did she get it?” “Not really,” he said.

I asked how he was received on the train. He said that he would shake hands with anyone–children or adults–and that some adults were very awkward about his being there and would refuse to make eye contact. One guy did shake his hand, but said, “This isn’t a hand, it’s a fist.” Weird!

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On Christmas Eve, the plan was to have dinner with friends. One of my tasks was to supply some Christmas music, so over several days I previewed as many secular Yuletide beats as possible. The anomaly of my Godless world is that I love Christmas carols which are–unsurprisingly–mostly religious in nature. Your modern, non-religious Christmas songs all pretty much bite; seriously, White Christmas is terrible no matter who sings it (obviously I don’t mean you Nat King Cole, you could sing the instruction booklet from an Ikea bunk bed and make it swing). O Come All Ye Faithful is my favourite. When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings Carol of the Bells et al. it is awe-inspiring and gives one a glimpse at the Great Mystery. (Sounding a little Agnosticky here, I know).

But as I found out in my aforementioned former job, whenever I played one of my CDs of choirs singing carols, the response was overwhelmingly negative.  And yes, it was at Christmas. “Stop playing those damned carols” was a sentence uttered on more than one occasion. So I knew better than to dig up any of those. My selection was from the “better” Christmas songs (so the pervy I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus was out) and the end result was a tuneful Christmas cake of tasteful jazz lite hits frosted with some lite rock standards. It was the kind of playlist one might hear in your better municipal waiting rooms.

A friend explained to me that this category of easy-listening Yule sounds is dominated by two people; Mariah Carey is the Queen of Christmas and Michael Bublé is the King. Mariah’s Merry Christmas album was recorded in 1994 and has sold 15 million copies. Just let that sink in. It’s the biggest selling Christmas album ever. A little known side effect of hearing her All I Want For Christmas Is You less than half a dozen times in 24 hours, is that you’ll play it over and over in your head hundreds of times for the next three days. Trust me on this.

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Other random things I learnt in the last few days.

  • You can build a Jenga Tower at least 35 rows high.
  • There is such a thing as too much ham.
  • WHO’S THE BOSS is a terrible, terrible show.
  • When people aren’t at work, their Facebook posts get even weirder.
  • There is no such thing as too many prawns.
  • It’s worth buying bed linen at the Boxing Day sales.
  • THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is a fine gloomy Christmas film


And speaking of films. During the day of the 24th, I channel-flicked and ended up on IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE the 1946 Frank Capra classic. It was just as George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) was going to college after putting it off to work in the family’s Building and Loan business. And despite having seen the film a dozen times and even owing a DVD copy, I watched it from there until the rousing end when George discovers because he has friends, he is the richest man in the town.

So I learnt that I still feel teary at the end of a corny old movie made 65 years ago and I’m okay with that.

Season’s Greetings

Phil Jeng Kane

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