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In a Dark and Troubled Place


A few weeks back, a friend sent me an email with a video about how the John Lewis 'Hare and Bear' Christmas advert was made. He said I might like it because it was amazing how they animated the animals, but then again I might not because I was probably the kind of person who don't like Christmas adverts.

I thought about this and decided that he was right: I don't like Christmas adverts. I don't like most adverts, unless they make me laugh, in which case I've forgotten what I'm being sold and can get on with my life.

And no, I don't like the Hare and Bear advert either. For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's a cutesy animation about a hare and a bear in a forest. The bear doesn't understand Christmas (he's a bear) so the hare tries to show him its meaning. The meaning, in this case, is a big, sparkly tree surrounded by lots of crap the bear doesn't need. I don't like the message: "Show someone the meaning of Christmas (by buying our stuff) - or - "If you don't buy our stuff then you hate Christmas and you're nothing more than a stupid fat bear."

What I really don't like is the fact that the bear is quite happy before the hare tries to save him from his empty, joyless life. He doesn't need saving, he's just a bear, being all beary, lollopping about, yawning, sleeping, scratching his arse and, almost certainly shitting in the woods. But what I really don't like is the look on his face when he finally has his moment of 'enlightenment'.  He sees the tree and his pupils seem to dilate.  He looks even more like a beast than he did before: hypnotised, feral, assimilated.

And then the hare gives this patronising 'aaah' look as the un-bear blunders down towards the tree like a moth to the flame. I find it unsettling.

Then I thought about it a bit more and realised that what I really didn't like was my reaction to these kind of things. Complaining about the traditions of Christmas seems to have become one of those traditions. (Too much food, too much drink, too much family, too much stuff, too much advertising. Too much complaining. I'm complaining vaguely about something I'm actively engaging in, and therefore I'm letting the marketeers win. And I'm forgetting what this time of year really used to mean for me.

Some memories of Christmas:

Being 3, looking up at my Dad as he pretended to be Santa Claus by turning his red-lined work coat inside out. I thought he was better than Santa Claus and I hoped he would pick me up. And he did. He picked me up with one hand and smoked his Christmas cigar in the other. He smelled grown up. I think he had probably had a couple - I don't blame him, we were living next to a graveyard in a house with no roof.

Watching my Dad sing carols in the church choir, then coming home to find the dog looking sheepishly up at us, having just eaten our Christmas presents, hoping we weren't mad at her.  We weren't, she was too daft to get mad at.

A few years later, watching Star Wars for the first time. Then the Empire Strikes Back, then Return of the Jedi. Buying into the idea that even the most evil man in the universe can come good in the end, that there is hope even for him.

Being in the nativity play at school. My mum directed it and my Dad wrote it. It was set in space, on board an alien spaceship that turns out to be the star of Bethlehem. The spaceship has broken down, so the aliens watch everything going on down below and then leave the planet, pondering on hope and the fate of mankind. It was kind of edgy for a Primary school nativity, I'm surprised it made it to the stage.

I'm not religious. My beliefs change so often that it makes no sense to call them that any more. I have ideas, I suppose, and sometimes they stick around. I'm fairly sure that describes what happens for most people. But I do like the story of the nativity. Ignore the details, just look at the image: even in the coldest, loneliest, shittiest place, even in such a dark and troubled place, something hopeful can be born.

It's hard being human. Most of the time we don’t know what we’re doing. Those moments when you think you're in control are as fleeting as happiness itself. That’s why it’s important not to panic. To remember that things will probably work out for the best. To have hope, and most importantly, not to abandon it, because if you do, then you’re no better than the people who use it to try and sell you something: whether that's an ideology or an aftershave. That's why we remind ourselves, that's why we tell stories. That's why we have things like Christmas.

We see a billion things every day that remind us it's easy to forecast doom. Not so to implore hope.  Happy Christmas.