Written and Illustrated by Raymond Briggs
Random House, 1973
“Blooming Christmas here again!”
What makes this book so dangerous? It depicts a grumpy Santa Claus who swears and drinks alcohol.
Santa is annoyed to be interrupted from his dream of relaxing in the sun and further irritated to realize that it’s Christmas Eve. As he has his breakfast, the weather predicts lots of snow and wintry weather. He loads up his sleigh, puts on his suit and bids farewell to his cat and dog, who watch him as he flies away. He grumbles as he flies through snow, rain, storms and fog. As he delivers his presents, he has to deal with chimneys that are too small, strange houses, lots of stairs and pets that get in the way. But he also enjoys some brandy left by one thoughtful dad, lots of cookies and nicer weather on his way home. When he returns home, he feeds his reindeer, dog and cat, then has a nice hot bath. He follows that up with a drink and a lovely dinner before opening his presents. As he gets into bed for the evening, he says ‘Happy Christmas’ to his dog, his cat and the reader.
Author/illustrator Raymond Briggs is best known for The Snowman, a wordless picture book that became a popular animated holiday special. But five years before that book, he wrote this, his first book about Christmas, featuring a Father Christmas who is quite different from your average jolly Santa Claus. Mr. Briggs is an admitted curmudgeon himself, so I imagine this Father Christmas may have been somewhat of a self-portrait of the author. Within the two years before this book was published, he lost both of his parents and his wife of 15 years. Seen in that light, you see the joy that Father Christmas takes in the small pleasures of a good cup of tea or his Christmas dinner and it becomes more meaningful. There are multiple nods to his parents in this book, too; one of the houses that he visits was a recreation of his parents’ house and the milkman who speaks to Father Christmas is a depiction of his own father, who was a milkman as well.
The book is written in comic book style, with some pages featuring many small illustrated panels, with other size pictures sprinkled throughout the book. The details in his drawings are incredible. I spent a great deal of time combing some of them over to take in everything. And I love the way that he’s drawn Father Christmas, with a grumpy face that softens and even smiles occasionally and whatever his expression, he’s completely likeable. An animated special was made in 1991 that combined this book and its sequel, Father Christmas Goes on Holiday. Challenges made against this book, claiming that it shows Santa swearing, drinking and generally being un-jolly, have resulted in the book being removed from some library shelves.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that all people are complex and no one can be jolly all the time.