Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Other Side of Christmas

 From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

“A Christmas Carol” is not just a story of one individual’s journey, as Dickens also forces his readers to look at the darker side of Victorian London, the poverty and also the crime. We do not like to dwell on that too often at a time of cheer.

Indeed “Mistletoe and Wine”, the chart topping song by Cliff Richard originally started, shorn of its more overtly religious trappings, as a song in a musical about “The Little Match Girl”, the story by Hans Christian Andersen, of a girl selling matches to relieve her poverty, and eventually dying in the cold and snow. The song was to be sung ironically, as a song of cheer accompanying the well-fed as they ejected the girl from the warmth of a dwelling, out into the misery of the cold.

But the song was taken over, and sweetened, and became instead almost a hymn of praise, losing the biting irony in the process.

A recent poem has also stirred up uncomfortable images. Romsey Town Christmas also looks at the bleaker aspects of Christmas. Reactions in Romsey have been mixed, between those who do not see their town there at all, and those who think that this does truthfully explore the underside. The crime statistics, should you take the trouble to look them up, as I have done, indicate a town that is not a hot-spot of crime, but one none the less where this is antisocial behaviour, drugs, possession of weapons.,

Much the same, I suspect could be said of Jersey. Jersey is a wonderful Island, but we should not be blind to the darker side of Jersey life, the slum dwellings, the vandalism, the drugs, and the occasional incidents with weapons. Even this year, we have had one very brutal murder, which lifted the veil on another side of Jersey, and our own Lieutenant-Governor has remarked on the surprising amount of poverty and deprivation for such an affluent island.

In the BBC play, “The Nativity”, there is a very strong emphasis that the birth of the Messiah has come for the shepherds, for the poorer, for the outcasts, not for the mighty on their thrones, not for Herod or Rome.

That good news is also present in Hilary Jolly’s poem:

Romsey Town Christmas
by Hilary Jolly

Lord, are you here in narrow, grubby streets?
Dogs bark, babies cry
Drunks on hunches watch the world go by
And don't like what they see.
And do you lurk with foul-mouthed little boys
Who smoke and spit
In alleyways, but find no joy in it
And trail home listlessly?

And do you walk when beauty's promise dies,
Hope dims, night falls,
Strange, uncouth graffiti climb the walls
And money's tight?
And will you die for sad-eyed little mums
With sullen brats.
And lads with airguns taking aim at cats?
Yes for tonight
Above the sullen streets. a star looks down
And angels bring good news to Romsey Town