This morning I received my first holiday greeting card this year from a business, which always cheers me up immensely. The giddy realization that a computer somewhere has been thinking of me—and even took the trouble to spell my name correctly—is as much a part of the magic of Xmas as the rich, familiar aroma of polyvinyl chloride rising from our collapsible tree, gently stirred at intervals by the fans within the overhead air recirculation ducts.

There are those who wish, owing to misguided nostalgia or perhaps unmedicated psychosis, an escape from what they perceive to be the excessive commercialism of Xmas. Tragic is the end of so rash an urge left uncontained! For without the commercial, the material and the absurdly superfluous, the holiday season is nothing but the relentless assault of friends and family, and there is only so much good cheer the mind can manufacture before it snaps.

Charles Dickens understood. A champion of coldly rational analysis and a tireless debunker of superstition, his book A Christmas Carol is more than just a heartwarming tale of ghosts and work houses and little children on crutches. Beneath the façade lies the unsettling reality of what happens to the human psyche when subjected to the extraordinary levels of angst and stress wrought by Christmas in its traditional and undiluted form. That it truly ends happily as people tend to suppose is a matter of the highest doubt; In fact, Scrooge's overnight personality change would be regarded with concern by any competent medical professional then or now.

Those who have watched the original Gremlins film will no doubt recall the scene in which Phoebe Cates, having suffered a massive psychotic break on camera, ad-libbed for ten straight minutes in a trance-like monotone a fantastical tale of her drunken father having broken his neck whilst attempting to enter the house via the chimney wearing a Santa outfit, before herself collapsing and being rushed to hospital. It being the final day of shooting, director Joe Dante and executive producer Steven Spielberg had little choice but to include the scene (heavily edited with an actress double for continuity shots) in place of the script’s intended sap-filled confession of undying true love that almost assuredly would have sunk the film. Instead, its mordant realism captured Christmas in a way yet unsurpassed in cinema and, of course, became a box office smash!

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