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It's Christmas and I'll dance if I want to

  • 16 December 2019


One of my earliest school memories is of dancing berserker-like to 'Jingle Bells' for my fellow grade one students. It was the last day of classes. Looking back, I suspect the teachers wanted a smoko (literally — this was the '70s) and a good laugh. I don't remember any reluctance on my part — I happily rocked out in the hope that it might put me in Santa's good books.

Dance and music are as innate as breathing. Babies dance while they are still in the womb, and the Yuletide can be prime time for 'playing music, singing and dancing [as a] healthy outlet for their emotions'. As William Stafford observed, kids dance 'before they learn there is anything that isn't music'.

Add some four decades and, aside from the occasional awkward shuffle at weddings, I am not by inclination one of life's dancing fiends. But Christmas still gets me moving, to the embarrassment of my kids.

That's as it was meant to be. Christmas carols started as folk dances, originally, sung and strutted in villages and pubs (a carol can literally mean 'a dance in a ring'). Carols were a celebration of life.

Nowadays, Christmas is a double-edged sword. It cuts through to the memory of who we used to be, while laying bare the flesh of who we are now — and what we may feel we are reduced to. Robert Fulghum expressed the wish for this prototypical Christmas present: 'I want my childhood back. Nobody is going to give me that. I might give at least the memory of it to myself if I try ... It is about a child, of long ago and far away, and it is about the child of now. In you and me.'

There's no dodging the tidal pull, or the gravitational weight, of the season. Like Garrison Keillor you may think it 'a lovely thing about Christmas' — that 'it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together'. Or, like Eric Sevareid, you may see it as onerous call of moral 'necessity [on] at least one day of the year, to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves'.

I think both barbs, solidarity and duty, miss the mark. While we can eschew participation, dodge the coloured crowns and Kris Kringles, the corny jokes, bon bons and office parties, Christmas is a chance for a spiritual breather. We've made it more