This editorial, “Strange Maven’s Diary,” originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #8, December 1997.
Christmas was the one time of year I always looked forward to. As a kid, the magic of Christmas and the promise of heaps of presents was irresistible. It was almost as if the whole of the year was leading up to it. The excitement started weeks before; helping to put up the Christmas decorations, Mum setting out bowls of exotic sweets and nuts in their shells, and the adverts on TV for all manner of wonderful toys. TV shows had their own Christmas specials, but nothing encapsulated the festive spirit more than the Christmas numbers of my favourite weekly comics – Beano, Dandy, Beezer, Topper, Whizzer and Chips, Cor!!, Wham!, Pow!, Smash!, and all with snow dusting the top of their logos and special seasonally themed episodes of all the strips.
As a youngster, it always puzzled me why there weren’t more American comics which had Christmas issues – I remember an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, but not much else – even when there were specials, they always seemed to be mysteriously described as “Holiday” specials – ignorant as I was of the multi-cultural US.
From my distorted viewpoint here in the UK, the influence of Christmas seems to be much stronger in the UK than in many parts of the US – it’s by far the biggest celebration in England (although it’s run close by New Year’s Eve – “Hogmanay” – in Scotland) probably because the majority of the population in the UK is Christian . New Year’s Eve is part of the extended festive period, and hugely important in its own right; Guy Fawkes’ Night and St Valentines’ Day being relatively minor celebrations. On this side of the Atlantic, we’ve only been “trick or treating” at Halloween for a couple of years and we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all. Christmas in England is the real biggie.
The modern Christmas, popularised by Dickens among others, with its message of giving peace and goodwill to all men, has little to do with Christianity – the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ has become submerged beneath a sea of tinsel and overindulgence. The date itself is probably inaccurate as far as the Son of God is concerned (best guesses of Jesus’ birthday around 25 or 27 March), but corresponds more directly with midwinter festivals, Roman Saturnalia, Yule and Hanukkah, among others. The Mithraic pagan festival celebrating the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun was apparently held on December 25th way back in the third and fourth centuries and was possibly hijacked by the Christians around that time. I would guess it’s probably easy for a young kid to confuse Jesus with Saint Nicholas.
Christmas in recent years has rapidly grown into a elaborately bizarre tradition – fairy lights on plastic trees, flaming puddings, flying reindeer, pantomime, the clandestine buying and wrapping of gifts and the subsequent fury of tearing open of same on Christmas morning, The Queen’s speech, Channel Four’s broadcast of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, the office party, pine cones and paper hats.
Christmas (or at least the period immediately following) gives most people the excuse to relax with their families, take a break from the dull routine of work, give priority to their children, keep in touch with old friends (if even by way of a solitary annual Christmas card) and generally let their hair down. Despite all the crass commercialisation, the Christmas spirit continues to spread across cultural and racial boundaries and that can only be a good thing. For all its many faults, for all the stress and extensive preparation for the climactic few hours of enjoyment, all the unwanted socks and ties, all the greed and gluttony, I can’t imagine a world without it.
Every year Christmas disrupts the production of Strangehaven, and on that tenuous link, I’d like to apologise for the rather erratic scheduling of this book. Apart from the usual myriad problems that self publishing continually offers up, a changeover to a new computer system delayed production of Strangehaven #7. This in turn caused a few teething troubles at my printer, and a separate misunderstanding meant that much of the print run didn’t get shipped out, resulting in a total delay of many weeks. Two long trips to the US also took a sizeable chunk out of my work schedule, making this issue a couple of weeks later than it should have been. I must thank all my readers for their continued support, and in an industry struggling to come to terms with recent massive contractions in the marketplace, Strangehaven continues to hold its own.
Well, I resisted the temptation to put snow on top of the Strangehaven logo (it probably would have kept sliding off anyhow), but this issue contains my attempt at a Christmas story. I hope you all enjoy it, whatever your background, and I wish you all a Merry Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and a very happy, healthy and peaceful new year.