Here we go, it’s that time of year again! Yippee! And get your wallets out. Scrooges are no longer tolerated during Christmas, although once upon a time people were so fed up with the annual Christmas shakedown that in 1491, London biggies ruled that Christmas solicitations would be banned. Servants, apprentices, tradesmen, and churchmen had all become professional supplicants, and were not best pleased by the ukase. But as someone once said, it is better to give than to receive, so there. We now give to doormen, barbers, hairdressers, garage attendants, lift operators, building supers, postmen, tiny rich children with hands outstretched, you name it, they expect it. And let us not forget professional beggars in front of expensive stores. I once had one of them throw the dollar I gave him back in my face. I pocketed it and thanked him and he called me a f—-ing cheapskate. What the hell, I’ve been called worse names.
There is no more Christmassy city than New York, and no more Christmassy village than Gstaad, where I’m spending the holiest of days. The fact that there are 9 million Shylocks in New York and 4,000 of them in Gstaad is immaterial. Christmas puts everyone in a good mood except for bearded types in sandy crappy places. I think having been sent away at a very young age to boarding school has a lot to do with the warm and pleasant feeling of anticipation that hits me when Christmastime comes around. It meant getting away from rules and regulations and boundaries and seeing up close what was awaiting me once free. (Old dad had girlfriends galore and some very spirited friends with girlfriends.)
Even movies about Christmas are wonderful. Is there a better one than the delightful Christmas in Connecticut, shot of course in sweaty Los Angeles, starring the divine Barbara Stanwyck? There is a baby involved, a handsome naval officer, a powerful publisher (Sidney Greenstreet), and a beautiful wooden Connecticut farmhouse covered in snow. It begins in busy New York City, where everyone is hectically trying to finish up before the holiday. Then it moves to one of the most beautiful states in the union—except that it votes Democrat—and then there’s total confusion. It’s my favorite film about Christmas, that and Miracle on 34th Street.
The old cliché is that Christmas is for small children, but I don’t agree. I get more excited about Christmas than my children do—mind you they are now grown up, although I only allow pictures of them around the house that were taken when they were tiny. When the children were tiny, Christmas gave me the opportunity to get drunk in front of them, because their Kaiser mother was always whispering in my ear that children who witness drunk parents end up drunks themselves. An old wives’ tale if I’ve ever heard one. Presents, of course, also help. During my first ten Christmases there were hardly any because we were at war and were later occupied by the German army. During the civil war that ensued, old dad managed to bring me a beautiful watch while crossing the Communist lines to deliver it. I don’t know how many fathers would do that, and those Commies were really bad, mean and bloodthirsty as hell. Never mind, I think of him a lot, especially at Christmas, 28 years on.
An old custom in Greece was to give cakes and other goodies to cops, who used to direct traffic in their shiny silver helmets while perched in circular posts. This was before traffic lights arrived in the birthplace of selective democracy. The only ones who really deserve to get monetary presents, actually, are cops. People act funny during Christmas—men beat up their wives, children get high and drive too fast, muggers are out in force looking for victims—and the only ones who have to remain sober and vigilant are cops, doctors on duty, and ambulance drivers. We forget about them, but they’re the real heroes. But try to tell that to community leaders around the Bronx and Harlem in New York, or down in the East End of London. The Gstaad fuzz are the smartest. They don’t work on Christmas Eve or Day. In fact, I’ve never seen one of them working except when they discovered, Sherlock Holmes-like, that it was yours truly who had hit a tree and left a tiny scar on its bark on Christmas Eve, fifteen years ago. (You all know the story. Two cops barged into my chalet at 6 a.m., one of them a female. She asked me to follow her to the police station and I asked to go to my bedroom for a second. She followed and I asked her to remove her uniform but keep the gun belt and the boots on and get into bed. She arrested me and I was tried and convicted and heavily fined. Now she’s no longer a cop and is very friendly in town, but I keep my distance.)
The only argument I’ve ever had with a Spectator colleague was 41 years ago at Christmas. He said something rude about an African statesman, P.K. van der Byl, the Rhodesian foreign minister and a great man, and I took exception. Forty-one years later, with thousands of dead and the greatest country in Africa plundered and ruined, P.K. looks like a giant, something I always thought he was. I wish a very, very happy Christmas to all our readers the world over and to those who produce it every week.