Being Modern: Alt.Christmas

 

As the forces of commerce gather for the fast-approaching festivities, we would do well to guard against another stain that has, of late, indelibly marked the spirit of the season: "alternative" takes on our cherished traditions.

It began in 1988 at the Tate Gallery. In one of Nicholas Serota's first moves as director, the sculptor Bill Woodrow was commissioned to decorate the gallery's Christmas tree with cardboard. This year, visitors will be greeted by the work of Giorgio Sadotti. Sadotti, though, has "resisted the tradition of decorating the tree". Hmm. So what magical form does his unspruced spruce take? "By presenting it 'undressed', Sadotti asks us to contemplate the tree's true beauty." Which is surely just a less clever take on Quentin Crisp's "What have you got against bare walls?" in reply to a reporter who asked him what he'd got against art.

Talking of Crisp, the next alt take on a hallowed Christmas custom came in 1993 when Channel 4 aired its first Alternative Queen's Speech courtesy of said wit. It was brilliant, of course, but we've since been subjected to slightly less resounding offerings from Sharon Osbourne, Ali G and Jamie Oliver.

And now we have the annual sport that is trying to stop the X Factor winner from getting to number one (see this year's campaign for Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), which felt relevant when it started but has quickly become as alternative as a can of pink hairspray.

Now, this column could not be more in favour of selectively sprinkling the secular into this time of year. We accept that, for many, the break from work and the chance to drink from dawn to dusk is as crucial to proceedings as the wise offerings of the man whose birthday we are supposed to be celebrating.

But there are times when a crap Cliff song hits the mark in a way Rage Against the Machine never can. The Queen, god bless her, doesn't demand our ear much these days, while tatty tinsel and cheap baubles possess a wonder of their own. And don't even get us started on the abomination that is the alt.appellation of "Crimbo"...

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