Well, what a month. The Americans have decided on their next president and the lanterns and pageantry of Lo Krathong have faded. The long-tailed macaques at the Lopburi Monkey Banquet have finished their feast and are presumably back to terrorising tourists. The turkeys of Thailand that survived Thanksgiving can breathe a sigh of relief, blissfully unaware that round two of being stuffed, basted and roasted is less than a month away. Yes folks, a fun-packed November is behind us and, in the words of Noddy Holder; it’s Christmas! again.
I know it’s Christmas! again because Mariah Carey is on the telly warbling All I Want For Christmas Is You as she frolics in the snow with Santa. The never so convincing home video features the impish diva doing what I assume all pop-stars of her pre-eminence get up to at this time of year – tobogganing alone on a country estate, getting fluffy white rabbits as presents and dressing her dogs up as reindeer.
Now, I love a bit of Mariah, at any time of year, but all that snow and talk of hanging around under mistletoes does appear a little incongruous”. from where I’m sat watching. The music channels are going to be spewing out similar songs and videos for the next month. Not to mention the shopping malls, convenience stores and bars across the city. But it’s still 30 degrees outside and the closest any of us are likely to come to snow like Mariah is scampering about in is that stuff that slops out of the slurpy machine at the back of 7-Elevens.
I am in no way complaining, please understand that. Christmas melodies are unavoidable practically anywhere on the planet right now and I for one think that is a wonderful thing. Of course there are those yuletide novelty abominations that will have even the most ardent of Christmas shoppers clawing to get out of the shopping mall. But there are also those timeless tunes that kindle sweet sentimental longing for mince pies, knitted socks and arguments with the family. And there are also those festive pop classics that are lyrically far more universally relevant than their Christmas status perhaps at first suggests. I have chosen three of my absolute favourites to illustrate this.
We’ll dive straight in with the inimitable Last Christmas by WHAM! Just after arriving in Thailand I asked a friend what a particular Thai band was singing about. He replied: “They are singing about what every Thai band sings about. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl goes off with boy’s best friend because he owns a car”. This universal theme is apparent in the opening lines ‘Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away’.
Accompanied by a Brit Award winning video featuring the very pinnacle of ‘80s gorgeousness, Last Christmas will resonate with young Thais hearing it for perhaps the first time and older westerners who, three decades ago, dreamt of having hair as splendid as George Michael’s.
Another unavoidable but much loved yuletide classic, that bucked the trend for saccharine lyrics and angelic vocals, is Fairytale of New York. Here again the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl explore the human condition. What starts out as a blossoming Christmas Eve romance on the streets of the Big Apple (‘We kissed on the corner and danced through the night’) decomposes into something less lovely (‘You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot’). Again I believe this story might resonate with more than a few expats, and Thais alike, who have fallen in love within the walls of the Rose of the North.
My next tune is one I think will ring bells with families the length and breadth of Thailand. Not necessarily Christmas bells, but definitely the temple bells that ring out over Songkran and Loy Krathong. Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas could easily describe the sentiment and the struggle of getting home to see the family during the festivals, a sentiment felt by millions of Thais who have left home for the bright lights of the big cities and know exactly what ‘Top to toe in tailbacks’ feels like as they make the long drive back again. In fact, if Chris Rea simply rerecorded the song with the word Christmas swapped for Loy Krathong or Songkran he might be able to afford to fly home next year.
These are just a few of the songs from the Christmas oeuvre that are likely to be unavoidable for anyone who wanders out over the next few weeks. Please remember that people’s taste in Christmas popular music is extremely personal. It is possible that a friend or a loved one might not be as keen on Jingle Bell Rock as you are. It is conceivable that that you may be in a lift, on an escalator or browsing a shop window and hear: “Bloody hell, if that WHAM! song comes on again I’ll do something I regret”. Unlikely, I know, but please may I urge tolerance and restraint at this delicate time. It is the end of a year that has seemed slightly sillier than normal, but it is Christmas, and things cannot possibly get any sillier. They really can’t. So pour yourself an eggnog and pop on Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. It’s impossible not to love that one and the world will immediately become a better place.
A very Happy Christmas.