Friday, 23 December 2011

Top Five Christmas Classics


Classics, geddit? See what I did there? Ahem.

So, obviously, these are my top five Classical-themed Christmas offerings.*

5. The Vicar of Dibley: 'Winter'
Which festival? Christmas
Fun for all the family? Definitely - though more bitter pregnant women or new mothers might feel the need to point out some of the, ah, toned-down elements
Why? I really like the idea of a Nativity play performed at an actual farm - I'm sure someone, somewhere, has done this. But the real joy of this episode is David Horton's desperate attempt to rehabilitate his character, Herod the Great, as a kindly old grandfather (further complicated by the arrival of his actual grand-daughter halfway through the performance).
Will we learn the true meaning of Christmas? Almost certainly not, though the actual mythology of Christmas, i.e. the story of the birth of Jesus, is in there somewhere.

4. The Roman MysteriesThe Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina
Which festival? Saturnalia
Fun for all the family? Yes - everyone except seven-year-old me. Seven-year-old me would have been inconsolable and no one would ever have heard the end of it. But the book is middle grade (aimed at around 8-12-year-olds) so that's fine.
Why?  The atmosphere of this story, from Flavia's opening scenes with a hot drink, through Nubia trying to adjust to the cold and throughout the family-centric story, is warm and evocative. Saturnalia, with its traditions of turning everything upside down so that an eleven-year-old girl might actually find herself in charge (to a degree) is the perfect festival for a children's adventure and this is a lovely and touching story with some important character development for Flavia. And giraffes, which are just always cool. The only drawback to this as a Christmas story is that the ending is so sad, so it can be a bit of a downer if you're looking for holiday cheer.
Will we learn the true meaning of Christmas? Possibly - the making and breaking of families and growing up are generally Christmassy themes.

3. Jesus of Nazareth (Zeffirelli, 1977)
Which festival? Christmas, I guess. Or, um, whatever Jewish festival might be happening during the lambing season?
Fun for all the family? Yes, for a certain fairly specific definition of 'fun'. I liked it as a kid.
Why? We all used to watch Jesus of Nazareth on video every Christmas and every Easter, and I genuinely enjoyed it (my favourite part was the crucifixion - I worry about that sometimes). Since we had the whole unedited, however-many-hours long version, quite often we didn't get any further than the Nativity story, but we got to know that bit really well! Zeffirelli's realist approach comes up against the surreal Christmas narrative and Zeffirelli treads a fine line rather well - we see a star, shepherds and wise men but no angels (just a bright light) and Jesus is born in a cave, which must have been the predominant thinking on why people might have been lodging with the animals at the time (I believe more recent theories revolve around the animals living downstairs and the people upstairs, or maybe that's been discredited by now).
Will we learn the true meaning of Christmas? Well, that depends on your point of view. If you're a Christian, yes. If not... probably not.

2. Discworld: Hogfather
Which festival? Hogswatch
Fun for all the family? Probably not for younger children, but Discworld is relatively tame. I started reading them around age 12, which is probably about right.
Why? Hogfather is nowhere near my favourite Discworld novel, though it's somewhere in the top 50%, but I used to re-read it every year at Christmas because it is such a great seasonal special. I absolutely love all the Christmassy satire, from Colon and Nobby with the department store Hogfather, to the little match girl, to various characters reminiscing about family Hogswatches past. I'm also particularly fond of the Unseen University faculty as characters, and Death too. The actual Classical element, aside from the general themes concerning mythology and the development of myth and ritual, is Bilious the oh-god-of-hangovers, who's great fun and probably most appropriate for this time of year!
Will we learn the true meaning of Christmas? Yes, probably - there are definitely some interesting ideas about the origins of winter myths and rituals in here.

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Which festival? Christmas, briefly. And Easter, metaphorically.
Fun for all the family? Yes, definitely.
Why? I blogged the more recent film version last year, but it's the 1988 BBC TV version that really says 'Christmas' to me. The only actual Christmas element is the brief appearance of Father Christmas in episode 3, but between the snow, the parcels Mr Tumnus is carrying when we first meet him and the magic, the whole thing feels so incredibly Christmassy that Doctor Who is ripping it off for its Christmas special this year. The Classical elements are, of course, the fauns and satyrs, and the fact that Tumnus the Faun is the first Narnian creature we meet means that this feels as much like a Classical classic as it does a Christmas classic. The TV version has its detractors, but for me, this was the start of a life-long love affair with fantasy in general and with Narnia in particular and I think its completely magical. The hand-drawn creatures look imaginative rather than cheap to me and when you hear the first strains of that beautiful theme tune, you know it's Christmas-time.
Will we learn the true meaning of Christmas? Perhaps surprisingly, no. Father Christmas turns up briefly to give out some presents, half of which are weapons. So, satisfying the greed of small children, and violence. Not really in line with 'those who live by the sword, die by the sword'. You might learn the true meaning of Easter, though. If your Mum tells you what Aslan's name is in our world.

I'm going to take a short break for Christmas (well, I'm going to focus on some lesson planning and try to start the paper I'm giving in January). Have a fantastic Christmas/holiday and see you all in 2012!

*For the curious, my top five Christmas movies in general are:
5. The Snowman tied with Joyeux Noel
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
3. Little Women (the Winona Ryder one)
2. Love Actually
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol

and because I can't restrict myself to just five, my top ten Christmas episodes/specials are:
10. The Big Bang Theory, 'The Bath Gift Item Hypothesis'
9. The West Wing, 'In Excelsis Deo'
8. The Brittas Empire, 'In the Beginning'
7. Blackadder's Christmas Carol
6. Men Behaving Badly, 'Last Orders'
5. Only Fools and Horses, 'Heroes and Villains'
4. Friends, 'The One With the Holiday Armadillo'
3. Community, 'Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas'
2. The West Wing, 'Noel'
1. Yes Minister, 'Party Games'

Happy Christmas Everybody!

10 comments:

  1. Can I put the case for Pratchett's Wintersmith? Orpheus elements, the changing of the seasons, the Black Morris bringing in winter- though no particular festival?

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  2. Ooh, good point, I need to re-read and blog that. One of my all-time favourite Discworld novels, love it. Would go for Hogfather as a Christmas recommendation though - it's got a more festive feel!

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  3. The only one I've seen of those five is Narnia! :p Whereas amongst the movies the only one I haven't seen is the Snowman!

    My favourite Christmas movies are Meet Me in St Louis (only Christmassy at the end, with Judy Garland singing I'll be home for Christmas), Miracle on 34th Street (the original b&w) and White Christmas. Also love Joyeux Noel (tried to get it on dvd this year but couldn't find it!), Holiday Inn (Bing Crosby AND Fred Astaire? YES!) and of course It's a Wonderful Life. Ditto Little Women (good choise on the version! but I've been wanting to re-watch the Hepburn one for years, can't find it!) and Love Actually (but less)

    Enjoy the holidays!!! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too!!! :o)

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  4. You too!

    I like It's a Wonderful Life very much, but Phoebe in Friends is right - it should be called 'It's a Sucky Life and just when you think it can't suck any more it does'! It's really depressing!

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  5. In fact, Wonderful Life and Meet me in St Louis depress me for opposite reasons - Wonderful Life because he wants to get away and can't, St Louis because they make such a fuss they gt to stay - this tactic never worked for me as a kid!

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  6. Yeah, we tried the making a fuss tactic a couple of times too. Never worked! But I still love the movie! ;o)

    It's a Wonderful Life was more of an acquired taste though... It does make me sad that he was kind of "stuck" there.

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  7. If you haven't seen it yet, A Christmas Story, with Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, and Peter Billingsly, is my hands-down favourite Christmas film. Based on a set of short stories by Jean Shepherd, it's really a treat.

    Happy Christmas!

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  8. I hadn't heard of that one, will look out for it! Merry Christmas!

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  9. I love the Blackadder Christmas Carol, although the sight of Baldrick in a posing pouch is a tad traumatic. That show is how I knew Robbie Coltrane was perfect for Hagrid. Both of the Thin Blue Line Christmas episodes have their moments, though I think the first is better, when Grimm arrests the carolers.

    On the movie front, I'll put in a word for the little-known Prancer with Sam Shepard and Cloris Leachman. A Christmas Story is also quite good, but you may have to be American and at least 40 to really get it.

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  10. you may have to be American and at least 40 to really get it.

    I'm trying desperately to forget that I'm old enough to actually get everything in that film (even though I'm not old enough to have lived through it).

    As far as the cultural references, well, the UK has been so thoroughly assimilated into the collective that I'm sure Juliette will have no trouble with it. (The Americanisation of Emily is another good film, by the way.)

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