Setting Fire to Greetings Cards isn't my Idea of the Christmas Spirit, says Griselda Heppel

Ah, December. Christmas approacheth, and what does that mean? 

Television ads, of course. And, oh my, do we in the UK have a bizarre selection this year. 

Stupendous New York Christmas tree.

How did this happen, this escalation of The Christmas Advert? So that all the big hitters – John Lewis, Marks and Spencers, Aldi, Tesco etc – feel they have to go all out every year to outdo themselves in lavishness and sentimentality… And do they actually boost sales, the point of advertising in the first place (though you'd never guess it from these intensely concocted minidramas)? 

Well, funny you should ask that (oh all right, that was me). Because, judging by the reaction to this year’s John Lewis creation, they do. Though not quite (tee hee) as the Great Retailer intended (see below). 

But first to the one there’s been all the fuss about. Yup, the M & S offering, which, because of popular outcry, had the scene showing red and green paper hats burning in a fireplace removed. It isn’t M & S’s fault that these are the traditional Christmas colours, nor that the public can’t understand that Christmas advertisements are made months ahead, quite possibly in a sweltering summer, long before the appalling events in Israel and Gaza occurred. Nevertheless, the retailer took note of current sensitivities and junked that particular bit. 

Christmas cards. Please don't set them on fire.
What is Marks and Spencer's fault is that they created such a harsh, snide, aggressive, angry advertisement in the first place. I’ve never in my life seen anything so completely opposite to the Christmas spirit, with people pulling faces, destroying board games, turning up their noses at the wine they’ve been poured, hurling a Christmas elf through the night sky and – a scene I found truly shocking – using a blow torch to set fire to a pile of Christmas cards.

That’s right. Those cards people write to each other to wish them a happy Christmas, to catch up, to send love, to make isolated people feel a little less lonely. A truly nasty smile forms on the face of the actress just before she does this. Never mind burning paper hats in the fireplace (though that is all part of the nihilism), what were you thinking of, Marks and Spencer, in sending out this Christmas message? Just what kind of people are you employing in your creative department and is anyone who has a heart actually checking what they do? 

The venus flytrap -
famously cuddly and vulnerable.

Now to the John Lewis offering. This one is truly weird. A boy magically grows a venus fly-trap into a giant, scary Christmas tree (yes, totally Little Shop of Horrors). Sensibly his family put it out in the garden and get a proper fir tree. Little boy misses his sharp-toothed friend, now sadly drooping in the snow, and goes out on Christmas Day to give it a present. Flytrap mouth bends down, seizes the present, crunches it up, wrapping and all; then explodes it in its jaws to scatter numerous gifts to the whole family. 

From which we conclude that we should ignore danger signals given out by, say, flesh-eating creatures (here anthropomorphised into something I would not like to meet on a dark street). Instead, placate and feed them... and you will be richly rewarded. 

I know, I know, it’ll be about not judging by appearances. But this important moral value was never meant to make us switch off our survival instincts, surely? 

Thank goodness there is some sanity left in the world. 

For a simple, touching, unsentimental message that goes to the heart of Christmas and what kindness really means, see what Charlie’s Bar in Enniskillen has made, for the tiniest fraction of the budget of the giants above. No wonder it’s gone viral. 

Now that's more like it.

Oh, and the great sales boost achieved by the John Lewis ad? 

Well, garden centres all over the UK are running out of that Christmas staple, the venus flytrap. Which will do wonders for John Lewis’s own sales figures. Er...

Happy Christmas all!

The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel
WINNER of a Wishing Shelf Award 
by the author of Ante's Inferno  
WINNER of the People's Book Prize


Peter Leyland said…
Hi Griselda, Great that you've brought to an end the drought of blog posts in this most miserable of months! I hadn't seen any of those ads but I thoroughly agree with your sentiments after watching them. The M&S was instantly forgettable and the John Lewis, well my thoughts were, Making friends with a triffid!! You did give us a nice contrast however with the heartwarming one from Enniskillen. And well done for managing to download those videos. Elizabeth Kay has been asking how it was done so I hope she's now managed to work it out.

I'll be visiting my two grandchildren this Christmas in Farnham, a real first. I will ask if they have seen the venus fly trap advert...

Happy Christmas from Peter
Griselda Heppel said…
Many thanks Peter, glad you enjoyed the post. How exciting that you're having Christmas with your grandchildren - be prepared, they may well ask you for a venus flytrap!

I didn't actually download any of the videos, I just put links to them. I haven't ever tried to load a video directly into a post. I presume you upload it like a photo, but there may be more to it than that.
Thanks Griselda - I thought I was hallucinating when I happened to see the John Lewis one so I'm glad it wasn't just some vision conjured up by my overtaxed mind! Though not really glad about the advert itself. One of my sons developed a phobia about plants when he was very small, and I don't think seeing that would have helped, but I think he's just about grown out of it...

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