Die Briten tun an Weihnachten Dinge, die sie den Rest des Jahres nicht tun. Vielleicht sollten sie dieses Verhalten einmal überdenken.
Colin Beaven on Christmas in the UK
At Christmas, the British go places they avoid during the rest of the year. They go to church, for example. Sometimes it’s standing room only when cathedrals have a carol service, and midnight Mass on Christmas Eve can be surprisingly busy anywhere. What makes people want to go to church so late at night? I suspect it’s because a lot of old Abba songs are played at noisy Christmas parties. Clearly, the words “Gimme, gimme, gimme a man after midnight” are misheard as “Gimme, gimme, gimme amen after midnight”. Theatres are also fuller than usual, because families go to pantomimes. A Christmas panto is based on a fairy story such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Retold as a family show, it has song, dance, colourful costumes, special effects, lots of cross-dressing and plenty of jokes.
Above all, though, it involves audience participation. This mainly takes the form of an argument with one of the actors. The formula is always the same: if, say, the prince in Sleeping Beauty tells the audience that Princess Aurora is dead, the audience is quick to contradict, shouting, “Oh, no she isn’t!” But the prince doesn’t leave it at that. It’s now his turn to say, “Oh, yes she is!” This can go back and forth for some time. It’s repetitive. The dialogue is more on the level of the school playground than a tragedy by Sophocles, but it is great entertainment.
It’s the verbs that make all the difference. If you left them out, you’d just be shouting “yes” and “no”. Where’s the fun in that? And it’s so important to be able to disagree properly. Seeing a panto once a year really is the best kind of training.
Why do we need to practise disagreement and show that we’re sceptical? Because it’s not just pantos that tell us fairy stories. We’ll bracket out midnight Mass, where in any case, audience participation is probably less welcome. If you called out when the vicar said something that seemed hard to believe, I doubt whether anyone else would join in.
We do hear a lot of nonsense in everyday life, however. There are ads on the telly for things that make us look young, slim and beautiful. Whenever you hear that a product is “clinically proven” to help you, it’s time to shout, “Oh, no it isn’t!”
There are also plenty of extremist politicians who seem to think they’re Prince Charming and that a simplistic idea is the answer to a complex problem. All together now: “Oh, no it isn’t!” Some pantomimes take place inside a theatre, others outside it. If we tried to export open disbelief from the one to the other, it might help to shake us out of our usual stupor.
It’s a waste of time trying to do that on Christmas Day, when we’ve had far too much to eat and drink and have sunk deep into our traditional Christmas mega stupor. Or, as Abba called it in a song that became one of their biggest hits: “Super stupor...”
COLIN BEAVEN is a freelance writer. He lives and works in Southampton on the south coast of England.