Procol Harum

the Pale

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Got the picture?

Roland Clare wanders through his Christmas cards

With Christmas so far behind, we'll soon be taking the decorations down: and a terrible fate lies in store for the tree. Let's look, one more time, through the kaleidoscope of seasonal images on this year's Christmas cards. Nowhere else will you find such a brain-befuddling contradiction of cultures. Well, almost nowhere else ...

We can blame Dickens for our most sentimental Yuletide images. These glimpses through other people's windows insides, firesides and bedsides, the big rocking-chair, candlelight and chandelier they all date from 1843 onwards, when he published A Christmas Carol.

And look at these images of presents, brought by this Santa Claus-like face, this idol absurd who braves fires which burnt brightly. There's myrrh and frankincense to set your brain afloat, but the gold is carved into fat old Buddhas to offset all the Christian imagery: four angels standing round the sacred bride ... there's even a red cross on that ambulance outside.

Red's the most Christmassy colour: must be because it stands out so well against a white background. No-one wants their Christmas blackened: in greeting-card land, it's bound to snow! So picture after picture shows winter's tales, people skating on thin ice, even a robin viewing his frozen feet, red and awful raw against the winding sheet and Snow-white mink.

Some cards retell legends: on some long road Christmas camels cross burning sands, eyes on the sky; a stranger in space, shining through among the stars that burnt so bright, is guiding them to see something magic being born, to lick the hand that rocks the Emperor baby's cradle.

'From Persian Lands Afar' the camels come, past some Arabian oilwells: they should really be fine Arabian racehorses, or also-rans, and their riders should be Sheikhs most grand, three wizard men who didn't wait for Christmas, but became a travelling show. They made a welcome for the chosen one by impersonating a watering can, a hotdog stand, and a padded cell; and their Christmas presents no-one's going to steal these toys are an angel's harp, a pocketful of lead, and a magic tooth ...


Well I've set my cards out on the table. My name is not Scrooge, but if anyone tries to convince me this is all a dream, 'Bach!' or even 'Homburg!' will be my only reply.

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