Putting the X Back in Xmas

Craig LennoxFounding Editor

This morn­ing I re­ceived my first hol­i­day greet­ing card this year from a busi­ness, which al­ways cheers me up im­mense­ly. The gid­dy re­al­iza­tion that a com­put­er some­where has been think­ing of me—and has even tak­en the trou­ble to spell my name cor­rect­ly—is as much a part of the mag­ic of Xmas as the rich, fa­mil­iar aro­ma of polyvinyl chlo­ride ris­ing from our col­lapsi­ble tree, gen­tly stirred at in­ter­vals by the fans with­in the over­head air re­cir­cu­la­tion ducts.

There are those who wish, ow­ing to mis­guid­ed nos­tal­gia or per­haps un­med­i­cat­ed psy­chosis, an es­cape from what they per­ceive to be the ex­ces­sive com­mer­cial­ism of Xmas. Trag­ic is the end of so rash an urge left un­con­tained! For with­out the com­mer­cial, the ma­te­ri­al and the ab­surd­ly su­per­flu­ous, the hol­i­day sea­son is noth­ing but the re­lent­less as­sault of friends and fam­i­ly, and there is on­ly so much good cheer the mind can man­u­fac­ture be­fore it snaps.

Charles Dick­ens un­der­stood. A cham­pi­on of cold­ly ra­tio­nal anal­y­sis and a tire­less de­bunker of su­per­sti­tion, his book A Christ­mas Carol is more than just a heart­warm­ing tale of ghosts and work hous­es and young­sters on crutch­es. Be­neath the façade lies the grim re­al­i­ty of what hap­pens to the hu­man psy­che when sub­ject­ed to the ex­traör­di­nary lev­els of angst and stress wrought by Christ­mas in its tra­di­tion­al and undi­lut­ed form. That it tru­ly ends hap­pi­ly as peo­ple tend to sup­pose is a mat­ter of the high­est doubt; in fact, Scrooge's overnight per­son­al­i­ty change would be re­gard­ed with con­cern by any com­pe­tent med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­al then or now.

Those who have watched the orig­i­nal Grem­lins film will no doubt re­call the scene in which ac­tress Phoebe Cates, hav­ing suf­fered a mas­sive psy­chot­ic break on cam­era, ad-libbed for ten straight min­utes in trance-like mono­tone a fan­tas­ti­cal tale of her drunk­en fa­ther hav­ing bro­ken his neck while at­tempt­ing to en­ter the house via the chim­ney wear­ing a San­ta out­fit, be­fore her­self col­laps­ing and be­ing rushed to the hos­pi­tal. It be­ing the fi­nal day of shoot­ing, di­rec­tor Joe Dante and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­er Steven Spiel­berg had lit­tle choice but to in­clude the scene (heav­i­ly edit­ed with an ac­tress dou­ble for con­ti­nu­ity shots) in place of the script's in­tend­ed sap-filled con­fes­sion of undy­ing true love that al­most as­sured­ly would have sunk the film. In­stead, its can­did re­al­ism cap­tured Christ­mas in a way yet un­sur­passed in cin­e­ma and took the film to huge suc­cess and crit­i­cal ac­claim!