A Christmas hug: Have we lost sight of the festive season's true meaning?

Trying to explain Christmas to an alien, Peter Sherwood is reminded that the only gift worth getting is a good cuddle.

Last year, December 23, 3am. I’m suddenly awoken by a dazzling purple light in the form of a garden gnome at the open window. “I was here on your primitive planet a while back, confused by your flog game.” “You mean golf.” “Whatever...” “What do you want?” I asked.

“An answer to another conundrum,” he replied. “What’s that?” “Christmas,” he said, bemused. “One of your quaint songs says there are chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and I don’t see any. And no sleigh bells in the snow – and not even any snow. Neither have I been able to locate a chimney, let alone some obese elderly gentleman in tacky red pyjamas trying to slide down one.

Let me guess. This is a practical joke.” “Well, it’s complicated; like trying to explain cricket to an American.” “What’s an American?’ “Never mind…

Goodwill to all men

“A lot of it is folklore for children,” I began, gamely. “But it comes from a religious celebration.” “The Red Pyjama religion?” “No. Christian people are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, their saviour.” “Was that recently?” “It was 2,000 years ago.” “Right, recently…

“So what has that to do with a tubby humanoid stuck on a rooftop suffering smoke inhalation?” “It’s a myth, fun for little kids.” “Not a lot of fun for the fat bloke.” “It’s just pretend,” I said. “You mean like anti-aging cream? But what do the ankle biters get out of it?” “Toys and stuff. Parents tell them Santa is delivering gifts, a surprise for when they wake up in the morning.” 

“When they wake up?! Hey, they woke up to that corny little lark long ago. Is this part of your mass exchange of Christmas presents? None of my business, but why would you swap a laptop and a bicycle for a pair of Clan McKenzie socks and a cheap toaster? It’s unfair. No wonder your ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ mantra is short lived. Next day, you get back to blowing each other to bits – and not a million miles from where your Jesus was born.”

“It might look like that to an outsider, but Christmas is a time of peace.” “Then you might cut down on the angry binge drinking, and while you’re at it give the turkeys a break. What’s the deal with massacring all your wildlife for a birthday party?’ “It’s an old tradition.” “So was burning people at the stake,” he said bitterly.

“Mistletoe above the door is another tradition,” I said. “What!? You mean the species viscum album; European mistletoe, of the family santalaceae? Why hang it over your door?” he asked, incredulous. “It’s like, you know, holly.” “Are you kidding me? You mean the holly of a genus with 600 species in the family aquifoliaceae? What’s that got to do with Jesus’ birthday?” “I don’t think you understand,” I replied, exasperated.

“I understand this,” he said firmly. “You should stop giving each other silly sweaters and iPhones on Christmas Day. A hug is all you need. It works for us.”


Peter Sherwood has lived in DB for 17 years. The former head of an international public relations firm, Peter is the author of 15 books and he has written around 400 satirical columns for the South China Morning Post.

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