I had thought I might have to write about it in that tiny sliver of summer we had this year, but turns out I come to it at the end of September – a proper September, as Robin Carmody put it on his blog: crispness in the air, conkers on the ground and a sense of anticipation. “Back to school weather”, I always think of it as, but when I was small there was something else too – the week when the weather turned was the first time I’d allow myself to think about Christmas. And once I realised that, the first thought of Christmas became a new Christmas tradition for me – it being a time unusually welcoming to traditions.
This was the big difference between Christmas and Birthdays, the two poles of the year as a kid. On my birthday I wanted surprises – at Christmas, even when I was only old enough to remember a handful, I wanted anything but. This urge for the familiar wasn’t exactly unique to me – it’s what the secular Christmas industry is based on, and it’s the coin of almost every hit Christmas song; a parade of comforting festive images. I can really sympathise with people who had miserable Christmasses as a child and dislike the season now – the collective will to enjoy it, and to enjoy it in particular ways, must be stifling.
But once you’re in the collective, Christmas is generous and flexible – it’s as much about the family eccentricities, the little personal traditions, as Nat King Cole style fantasias. Chestnuts roasting – well, fine, but Dad trying to light all the candles with one match, and telling the same cracker joke every year: now that’s Christmas. And this is the warm genius of Slade’s song, now as unshiftable a feature of the British Christmastime as cake and tinsel. This is a boozy, raucous family Christmas, unashamedly modern but in no way cynical.
You could make a case that “Merry Xmas” is Slade emasculating themselves – it bounces feistily along but there’s none of the venom, threat or even arrogance that they’d brought to glam rock. Its most famous, joyous moment – Noddy’s excited bellow just before the end – makes me remember it as a louder and less gentle record than it actually is. But that’s okay – it’s a generous, welcoming song for what ought to be a generous time.