Spend It Well?

So this year’s Christmas adverts are premiering at a rate of one or two a day.

As I write this, the John Lewis advert has just been released, the Marks & Spencer advert is a few days’ old and Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot has been entertaining us for a few days too.

It seems to me, so far, that #Christmas2017 is all about burglars on the roof, monsters under the bed and guilt about eating root vegetables which might not just be animate but have a love life too. So far, so scary – maybe not that festive at all!

But it’s even darker than that when I think about it properly.

My own sense of humour absolutely delights in the theory that the M&S roof burglar, mistaken by our hero Paddington for Santa, is assisted to return all the gifts he’d stolen to their rightful owners and handed a marmalade sandwich as a reward, hugs Paddington afterwards and apparently doesn’t say ‘Thank you, little bear,’ at all, but something much ruder. Once I heard the theory, I simply couldn’t hear ‘thank you’ any more at all… to the extent that, at home, we have adopted the acronmyn FYLB (‘F&*% you, little bear’) as a secret code for when somebody annoys us and we can’t make any comment.

But it’s the concluding screen of the Marks & Spencer advert which really chills. ‘This Christmas, spend it well,’ it advises us. Yes, yes, spend Christmas well, give presents to your friends and family and don’t steal anything from anyone… we get it. But don’t forget, this is an advert, not an inspirational film: an advert urging us to do our Christmas shopping at M&S, where all the beautifully lit products in the advert can be bought. ‘Spend it well’… spend all that money you can’t really afford to spend every Christmas in Marks & Spencer, not elsewhere. Order your Christmas food. Get your Super Alice costume, your Paddington memorabilia, your cosy jumpers, pyjamas and all the rest. Spend your money well. This is not just advertising… this is M&S Christmas advertising: spend it, little bears.

From bears on the roof to monsters under the bed: Mozza, the Gruffalo-esque John Lewis Christmas monster has made his first appearance this morning. Delightfully, charmingly ugly, he’s the monster under the bed who becomes the imaginary friend; Joe, the wide-eyed child who stars in the advert, is initially frightened of the monster who snores under his bed, but soon becomes friends with his charming night-time companion. The situation of his nightly adventures and daytime sleepiness is resolved when Mozza gives him a (beautiful, starry-eyed-generating) night-light for Christmas, banishing his fears and banishing himself. The requisite ‘John Lewis Christmas advert lump in the throat’ is produced with the disappearance of Mozza with the advent of the night-light… because Christmas is magical like that, banishing the darkness and all the fears that go with it.

And to that extent, John Lewis have got it kind of right: Christmas brings the fairylights which shine out through the darkness at the most forbidding time of year. Just at the time of year when there’s hardly any daylight, the Christmas lights quite literally lighten things. Driving home from work every evening, it helps to see lights twinkling from windows and in gardens through the filter of exhaustion in the evening dark. It doesn’t banish the monsters once you’re a grown-up, but it makes them fade… helps you forget about them for a while.

But let’s not forget that the story of Mozza isn’t really some sort of winter parable, designed to make us feel better… it’s another advert with beautiful, shiny, starry products available in a well-known store, which we’re being told to buy to make our winter just that bit easier. That starry nightlight? That train set? Those pyjamas and bedlinen? The many presents in the living room, the tree, the decorations, the cuddly Mozza? All available online and in store… until they sell out, of course, so don’t delay. The strapline says it all: ‘For gifts that brighten their world. John Lewis #MozzatheMonster’.

Brighten your world, banish your fears, even if it’s your fears and the underlying darkness which make sense of your life, which make the Christmas lights stand out amid the bleak midwinter darkness, which you end up making friends with and which will always be part of you. Shop, buy, and spend it well.

The real monster under the bed is the Christmas pressure to spend, to find the perfect Christmas gift for everyone (that present which will never be resented or regifted), to cook the perfect feast, to have the perfect day. No starry fairylights or nightlight can relieve that terrifying stress. No twinkling can remove the loneliness of the people who really can’t do Christmas, for whatever reason, be it illness, loneliness, poverty, isolation. The Christmas adverts are lovely, I like them too… but as for the pressure of Christmas, to get it right, to spend it well, to brighten the world for absolutely everyone, no matter what…?

Now that’s something I find hard to bear.      

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