It's Christmas so why not do a special? Jess finds out why not.
Excuse the Jess is a fictional story told over each season.
Written & Performed by: Jacquie J Sarah
Produced by: Deliciously Bright Productions
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Welcome to my Christmas special.
Like the Halloween special, this is a standalone. In other words, I won’t be updating you on my latest events. It’s not like anyone cares. Nobody has emailed and asked how I’m doing or what I’m up to. Not even a friendly hello so here I am remaining tight lipped. Much like I was in Season 1 where I said very little about me and talked around the subject unlike Season 2 where I talked and talked because I needed to. There’s no ghost story or anything like that either. I did think about why I was doing this and then I thought, why not? I’ve not done one before and it’s a big subject. Some things to mention first. There’ll be no talk about certain figures not existing and no potty mouth as my friend Ems likes to put it, honestly the woman has two children, she’s no innocent. It will be family friendly. I won’t extol the virtues of Christmas jumpers because frankly I don’t wear them. I also won’t be talking about how Christmas is about children or family or any other nonsense like that. Christmas is for everyone or no one if you like. Just think of it as a bit of free company, something for a commute, or to fall asleep to. There’ll be no earnest ads for BetterHealth or Manscaping, with a huge, yep sarcasm, 10% discount just by quoting the phrase SELLOUTJESS. If you want that, you can find it on every commercial podcast out there, some of them are really good too. What you will hear here though is about stuff you know and probably stuff you won’t. Will it change your life though, probably not. I am just managing expectations here from the start.
Okay, I will tell you one thing about my Christmas 2022. I am going away. Although technically I have been living away from what I consider home for months, so I am just going further away. Either way, I am staying with people I don’t know, well I know one of them, and I have it on good faith that the rest are nicer than them so I should be fine. If no more podcasts come out though, you know what happened. That, or I decided not to do this again. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
Back to Christmas or the holidays. When the term holiday season started to come into use in the UK it was seen as a further Americanism but actually it’s quite inclusive and I like it. I will therefore interchange it. The first thing you should know is I love Christmas. Mariah Carey tried to trademark herself as the Queen of Christmas this year, but she couldn’t because I am the queen of Christmas. I don’t know why either. I have had some bleak ones. Actually, it’s not Christmas day it’s the build-up. It goes back to when I was a child. I remember feeling sick with excitement with it all. There was the countdown to December because on the first day you could open your advent calendar. I am not saying I’m old but back then we didn’t have chocolate in it. Just pictures. They did exist, Cadbury’s started making them in the 50’s. I just mean poor 70’s kids used to get excited about opening a door which had a horrible tiny painting of a robin red breast. The pictures got better though and by the time you got to day 24, usually a double door, it was a lovely picture of Santa by which point you were questioning the logistics of him coming down the chimney when you had a gas fire. I remember the impossible task of going to sleep, yep even then. I knew the quicker I fell asleep; the quicker Christmas day would come. Knowing that fact made it even more difficult. Then at some point, I would wake up and see a small sack of presents in my bedroom. We weren’t rich, but every little thing was wrapped up so it could be colouring pencils in one present and a colouring book in another. I am trying to think of what the bigger presents would have been back then. There was the family tree house, Buckeroo, Etch a Sketch, Stretch Armstrong, which like the name suggests, was a static body but the arms and legs were made out of rubber and stretched impossibly long, so dangerous when you pull opposite ends. Also, Simon, Six Million Dollar man which you could see through his eye, Connect 4, Major Morgan which was a spelling, maths, and music wizard thing, Astro Wars which was like a mini–Space Invaders game, and every Star Wars toy you could mention. I remember having a manual Marvel pin ball machine which had cartoons of all the main characters you know about today, like the Hulk, Spiderman, Thor, and Captain America. My nan bought it for me, and I was thrilled. While other kids had Sindy, I had a pinball machine. It was plastic and we kept losing the balls for it, but I loved it.
I’m not going to talk about the child and teenage years post you know what if you have listened to my other podcasts, but the holidays started getting good again after I went to university. It was then I discovered that people like you in December. They make the effort to see you, you make an effort to see them. Food or alcohol or both was usually involved. Part of you wants to say well if you can’t be nice the rest of the year, why bother now and the other part is just thrilled that someone is nice to you. I am sure there are people out there who I have confessed my deepest darkest secrets to after a glass of Pinot Grigio too much that I don’t even remember now. I would walk pass them on the street and maybe have some vague recollection of them. I’ve spent Christmas days on my own but that’s been good. A chance to decompress after a month of madness and mayhem. I was going to say sober up but that wouldn’t be true. I would spend all day in my PJ’s, drinking wine, consuming more than my weight in chocolate, and watching films and TV specials. People would tell me it must be awful to spend Christmas day on your own but then I’d hear about their arguments or family tension, and I’d think that so much worse.
Times have changed now. It was only two years ago that Christmas was cancelled, and I didn’t see anyone for the month, never known Christmas day. Plus, my heart and liver couldn’t take the heavy drinking days of my youth now. We grow, change, and adapt, but I don’t think that excitement around Christmas will change for me. Well hopefully not. I mean it could change by the end of this year. Here’s hoping my Christmas will be more like a Hallmark Movie than Die Hard, which is definitely a Christmas film.
American clergyman Norman Vincent Peale said, Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
Are you playing Whamageddon? Don’t worry about this background music, it’s not it. It’s perfectly acceptable to hear a cover or remix, just not the original. For the uninitiated or the lucky as I like to call them, Whamageddon is the annual game of trying not to hear Wham’s Last Christmas until Christmas Eve. I am not sure if anyone has got there. I failed in November this year. Actually, I have just looked it up and it starts December 1st so back in the game. I think, I don’t remember if I have heard it. As soon as you recognise it, you’re out. That’s it for another year. It’s not even that straight forward because you can deliberately be put out of the game. Someone can send you the song under the pretence it’s something else and that’s it, you are out. It’s called Whamhalla. When you are out you should declare it on social media with hash tag Whamageddon. Earliest versions of the game go back to 2010 but why? I did some digging and found out, well nothing. Why is it good to avoid Last Christmas?
Last Christmas was released in 1984 and that is not fifteen years ago as I’d like to think, it is now thirty-eight years old. It was written and produced by George Michael but released under Wham with Andrew Ridgley. When it was first released it was number 2 for five consecutive weeks in the UK charts, held off by Band Aid’s Do They Know it’s Christmas. It finally become a number one record in the UK on 7th January 2021. In Germany, the song is the most successful Christmas single of all time. It was not released commercially as a single in the United States until November 2014, when it was made available on 12" vinyl as a Record Store Day exclusive. Since then, the song has re-entered the Billboard Holiday Songs Chart on a regular basis, peaking at No. 3 on 7 December 2019. The fact it is streamed means it might be in the charts every year until the end of time. Why therefore are we doing our best to avoid it.
I mean it’s an okay song. With its 80’s synth pop it takes me back to childhood. It’s mostly a time though I’d rather not go back to. Unlike a lot of the girls in school, I never thought I was marrying George Michael either. In the lyrics he gave someone his heart and the very next day they gave it away. This year, to save him from tears, he was going to give ‘it’ to someone special. He’s not talking about his heart. We also have to think about the mental wellbeing of the person who gave the heart away because only one year later, they don’t recognise George because as George states, tell me baby do you recognise me, well it’s been a year, it doesn’t surprise me.
After stating all that though, I do think it’s actually a clever song. I mean it’s confusing because he states now I have found real love you’ll never fool me again and then asserts if I kiss you now, you’ll fool me again. We also may have been fooled into watching George and Andrew on their skiing trip with the ladies but nowhere in the song does it state he gave his heart to a female. The singer or George states he’s male in the lyric, a face of a lover with a fire in HIS heart. Rather clever of the singer/songwriter who passed in 2016. If you don’t believe me, take a listen now. Go on! Especially if you haven’t heard it this year already.
American musician Gary Allan said, “Let's be naughty and save Santa the trip.”
Christmas started as a Christian festival and therefore not celebrated in every country. I have made the decision not to talk about religion on the podcasts. I mentioned politics briefly on the Halloween podcast and ended up doing a correction later on. Plus, who wants to listen about how utterly corrupt the UK government is which is just a fact not opinion, it’s Christmas and they don’t work Christmas, or much of the year really. I will stick to the old adage then not to talk about politics and religion. However, if we are going to talk about Christmas, a quick look at the origins is probably in order. Like Halloween, Christmas has its origins in Pagan history. In December, they would light bonfires and candles to keep the darkness at bay. Norse Pagans celebrated the festival of Yule known to us as the Winter Solstice. This was a twelve-day festival – the 12 days of Christmas - started from around 21st December to celebrate the days getting longer. Germanic people still celebrate this today. Roman cultures also celebrated two December festivals. The first was Saturnalia, which was a two-week festival honouring their god of agriculture Saturn. On December 25th, they celebrated the birth of Mithra, their sun god. These festivals are more like a British Christmas with drunken parties. As some point the Roman integrated the pagan festivals into their own. It is said that because the Christian clergy could not curb the pagan festivities, they decided to adopt the birth date of Jesus, so it became a Christian celebration. Please note this is hugely simplistic and it wasn’t. It’s more fascinating and bloodier but too complicated for what I am attempting to do as a section in a light hearted Christmas podcast.
We can’t talk about the origins of Christmas though without mentioning Little Saint Nick as the Beach Boys called him. Saint Nicholas or Nicholas as he would have been known in his lifetime, was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. He was said to given away his wealth to poorer people, to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their houses so their father could pay a dowry for each of them, and calming a storm at sea, saving three innocent soldiers from wrongful execution. He is the patron Saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. Many artefacts of Saint Nicholas' are located in a tomb in Italy, where they have rested since 1087. Although artefacts have been donated and are now stored around the world. How did he become the modern-day Santa? For the UK we need to look to America.
It was the migration of European people into America that brought with them their traditions. It was first reported in a New York paper in 1773 about a group of Dutch families gathered to celebrate the anniversary of his death. In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. Greek immigrants to the USA founded the congregation of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in 1916 and found their site in 1922 in New York. St. Nicholas was only 22 feet wide, 56 feet long, and 35 feet tall and was notable in later years due to its small size, unusual location, a juxtaposition with the large modern skyscrapers in the area—all other adjacent buildings had been demolished, leaving the church surrounded on three sides by a parking lot. Sadly, it was destroyed on September 11th, 2001, when the South Tower collapsed. However, the church was consecrated on July 4, 2022, and fully opened for services today as I tell you this, December 6th 2022, the anniversary of St Nicholas’s death.
To go back to how it influenced the UK. When I was younger, we were taught the tradition Saint Nicholas and he was the modern-day Father Christmas. For my history In the 70’s and much of the 80’s, although we knew the name Santa Claus, it was still Father Christmas. However, both Santa Claus and Father Christmas are now the same. The name Santa Claus was derived from the name Sint Nikolaas (Nicklass) which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas. Again, the history is too long and complicated for this podcast but definitely read up about it, or blindly drink too much and eat too much without knowing why. Actually, the latter one sounds more fun do that instead.
Jerry Seinfeld said, “That's the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me.”
Some facts about Christmas:
American comedian, the brilliant Phyllis Diller said, What I don't like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.
Back to Father Christmas or rather the modern look of him. It goes back a bit so again; I don’t have time for the full history. The one that seems to resemble what we know today is the one mentioned in the Clement Clarke Moore poem from 1822, ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ or ‘The Night Before Christmas’ as it’s more commonly known:
He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his sack.
His eyes how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump,--a right jolly old elf--
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
Okay we don’t think of the man as an elf, but most people know the legend that Coca Cola invented the modern-day Santa as well as the most addictive and downright tasty drink in history (I know, I hate myself for that too). In 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for Christmas advertisements. Those paintings established Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, including rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes and laughter lines. Sundblom drew inspiration from the 1822 poem I just read you part of. From 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola advertising showed Santa delivering toys (and playing with them!), pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, visiting with the children who stayed up to greet him, and raiding the refrigerators at a number of homes. The original oil paintings Sundblom created were adapted for Coca-Cola advertising in magazines and on store displays, billboards, posters, calendars, and plush dolls. Many of those items today are popular collectibles. Sundblom created his final version of Santa Claus in 1964, but for several decades to follow, Coca-Cola advertising featured images of Santa based on Sundblom’s original works.
To this day is it really Christmas without hearing the song Holidays Are Coming and seeing the Cocoa Cola truck? A replica lorry makes its way around cities in the UK now every year (apart from the years recently that I don’t want to talk about). Families queue for miles to get a view of the lorry and god bless them everyone.
Danish Comedian Victor Borge said, Santa Claus has the right idea - visit people only once a year.
I am calling this section Christmas films because it’s about Christmas films. Do a search on your favourite search engine and look at the lists of holiday films. If the top one isn’t the 1946 It’s A Wonderful Life, and it isn’t subtitled from a time period, e.g., from the 1980’s or it is country specific, just ignore the list. It’s not worth your time. Everyone knows this is the best Christmas film because it’s beautiful but also very dark. Much like Christmas can be. If you don’t know the plot of It’s a Wonderful Life then where have you been? There will be no spoilers but seriously, it’s a 76-year-old film – at what point do you have to say no spoilers? The short synopsis from IMDB is An Angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed. The businessman is George Bailey played by James Stewart, a man who has given up his personal dreams to help the people of Bedford Falls by preventing the awful Mr Potter from taking over the town. When It’s A Wonderful Life was first released it was considered a flop and it nearly destroyed the reputation of the director Frank Capra, despite the fact that it was nominated for five Oscars, including for Capra, although it did not win any. It only became a Christmas classic when the copyright fell, and it could be shown without any licencing or royalty fees in 1974. This was reversed in 1993 but it still continues to be shown. The last time I saw it in the cinema was Christmas 2019. I think that was the last time life could be close to being described as wonderful. Like anyone who has saw the film, I have thought about how things would have been different if I hadn’t been born and the truth is, they wouldn’t have been.
This section is entitled Christmas films though and not It’s A Wonderful Life so lets move on. There are a few stand outs – Gremlins, Die Hard (yes I am still pushing that one), Nightmare Before Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Happiest Season, Elf, Home Alone, Bad Santa, The Holiday, Muppets Christmas Carol, The Grinch, Scrooged, and Love Actually. I appreciate that’s more than a few, and apologies if I haven’t mentioned your favourites, believe me there some films in there I detest. Talk about splitting my sentences, I hope my university lecturer never listens to this, of course she won’t. I digress and go back. Apart from the few, most Christmas movies are basically the same. I believe Hallmark actually have templates for their writers. A high powered business person, usually a woman, must go to a hometown, probably their hometown which they escaped from as a teenager, there’s the meet cute with their perfect person who is probably widow/widower with a cute kid, they’re not fans of each other so it’s hard to know where it’s going. Something is happening in the town, a shop or factory or mill must be saved and our soon to be couple must work together to ensure this does not happen. In the meantime, there are fun and games and they decide although it’s not meant to be, they are okay people. More importantly, the cute kid decides the person who is not their parent, is actually the most wonderful person on the planet. The couple nearly kiss but are interrupted in a really unnatural way and then something bad happens meaning they can never actually be a couple. Then something Christmassy happens. I mean they are in a small town and every house is lit up so much that the residents must need sunglasses. Then there is some misunderstanding which could easily be avoided if someone would just open their mouths and say what they mean. Then one of them realises, usually the one with the cute kid who explains that they haven’t seen their parent so happy since the death of their other loved one, that it is meant to be and they can’t lose the other person. This results in a race against time of some sort and finally under fireworks, the couple finally kiss and they live happily ever after. Except we don’t really know if they do and what happens after the I love you’s and the Christmas decorations are down, and one lives in a small town and the other is a high-powered executive. We never find out because there are no sequels but I really want to know.
I sound hugely cynical here but of course I am suckered in every year. Come November I wonder if it’s too early to catch one. If you have listened to any of my other podcasts here, you know I am not a romantic but there is just something about Christmas. I don’t mean it is okay to mess up your best friend’s wedding video and then hold placards to his new wife declaring undying love. That just means you are a very bad friend. With more streaming services though they have started to diversify a bit. They are not necessarily 20 somethings in high powered jobs. I watched one last year that looked particularly promising starring Brook Shields. She goes to Scotland and buys a castle, but the previous owner has some ridiculous reason why he won’t move out and he is actually really awful to her. It’s okay though because some people in the local pub said he was nice. Are we really still at the stage of evolution when a man is horrible to hide the fact he is nice, and we are supposed to fall for it? I mean a fifty-something woman fall for it. Anyway, spoiler alert, it all works out in the end. I am not sure there was one Scottish actor in it either. I know I am being cynical again but it’s somehow worse when you hope for more.
I still think I’ll be up for more Christmas movies because I’m obviously an absolute sucker. Especially when a certain character says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.
Iconic American Actress Jean Harlow said, ‘Don't give me books for Christmas; I already have a book.’
I haven’t touched on television comedy specials. Maybe I will put that in a much later Christmas part 2. I also haven’t touched upon traditions in different countries, I mean some don’t even have Christmas crackers, imagine lunch without the paper hat, or the numerous Christmas songs which has nothing to do with Christmas but it does have a few bells. I know what you’re thinking, I am not listening to another load of nonsense about Christmas again. Anyway, you will be pleased to know we are near the end.
Whatever your religion, wherever you live, however you choose to celebrate Christmas or not celebrate it, I wish you a joyful and peaceful 25th December. In a world that may not be kind to you, please be kind to yourself.
That’s enough from me about Christmas or the holidays, thank you so much for listening. It just leaves me to say, please come back. I am not needy or anything but do what you want. Also, a lot of this stuff is from the internet, and did you know; the internet can lie. If you would like to do a random act of kindness and give me an awesome present, please give this a five-star review on Apple or Spotify podcasts. Nothing else will do. You can find me on Instagram @excusethejess. A very happy new year and maybe, just maybe we will do this again soon.