friday feast: roger mcgough’s alternative santa (and a holiday blog break)

by Roger McGough

‘I’m fed up looking like Father Christmas,’
Muttered Father Christmas one year
‘I need a new outfit, I must move with the times
So for a start, it’s goodbye reindeer’

He googled Alternative Santas
And was amazed at the stuff that appeared
He got rid of the holly-red costume
Had a haircut, and shaved off his beard

Spent his days in front of a computer
In a cave hollowed out of the ice
Wearing a tee shirt emblazoned Merry Xmas
And jeans (Amazon, Armani, half price)

Couldn’t wait to straddle his snow-ped
(The bargain he’d bought on eBay)
A rocket-powered silver toboggan
His supersonic sleigh

Then one morning he thought, ‘Oh why bother
Delivering presents by hand
When it could all be done online
Busy parents will understand

We are lucky to live in a digital age
Where the aim is access and speed
SantaNet I’ll call the system
‘Santafaction guaranteed’

And that was years and years ago
Times that children barely know
Midnight mass and mistletoe
Christmas carols and candle glow

Sleigh bells ringing across the snow
And Santa singing Yo ho ho
For that was years and years ago
And that was years and years ago.

~ This poem first appeared in The Telegraph (December 2013).

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Ho Ho Ho!

This poem made me smile and nod knowingly, but also wax nostalgic.

Who doesn’t love cyber shopping? Whose eyeballs don’t gleefully roll in their sockets at the words, “FREE SHIPPING”? Yay for the convenience of comparison shopping with just a few clicks, the ability to purchase online one day and find the spoils on your doorstep the next!

But SIGH. When it comes to Santa, I want him to stay exactly the same.

I need his holly-red suit, flowing white beard, and all his reindeer. I need this iconic symbol of joy, wonder, and magic to rekindle those happy childhood memories during a season when we inevitably think of those who are less fortunate, who can’t be or are no longer with us.

I’m so grateful we went to Hawai’i last year to celebrate Christmas with my family. It was my mother’s last, and though she’d been declining for awhile, none of us could have predicted she’d be gone just three months later. I baked several of her favorite treats — Russian Tea Cakes, Almond Christmas Trees, and Walnut Refrigerator Cookies. Whenever she knew I was coming, she’d remind me to bake Refrigerator Cookies for my brother since those are his favorite. But she liked them too. 🙂

Auntie Ella and Margaret

During the holidays, I also think about one of my mother’s younger sisters, Auntie Ella. Unlike my mother, she was an avid baker and usually made gingerbread boys and fruit cakes and rafts of cookies. Who can forget her caramel popcorn balls wrapped in Saran?

When I was growing up, my mother’s family took turns hosting the Christmas Day gathering — a joyous, talky potluck usually featuring turkey, ham, Chinese noodles, sushi, a Jell-O-mold, salads, mashed potatoes, hot veggies, kimchi, pies, cakes and fruit punch with 7-Up and orange sherbet. After lunch we played games and got all excited over the prizes we’d won. The “big” door prize was often a 100-lb bag of rice. My favorite prize was a transistor radio I received for winning the limbo competition at Uncle Joe and Auntie Gladys’s house (one of the few times it was advantageous being short). 🙂

When we were little we were blessed with lots of presents from aunties and uncles (my mother was one of 12 children, my father one of 6). Among the most memorable:  a 3-foot Ruthy Doll from Uncle Myung Ho and Auntie Susan, a beautiful lacy yellow cardigan (my first with covered buttons) from Uncle Charlie and Auntie Suney, a white wicker purse from Auntie Lily. We anxiously waited for our annual share of Auntie Esther’s scrumptious homemade cookies and the 5-lb box of See’s Candies Uncle Stan and Auntie Kyung Sin sent us every year from California. Grandma Yang was fond of slipping us some pin money along with a box of Hershey kisses.

Of course all this Christmas noshing and partying was just a warm-up for New Year’s, always held at Grandma Yang’s, always featuring dumpling soup — a two-day marathon of serious eating when we kids ran wild doing whatever we pleased while our parents were busy playing poker (did I ever mention that I was asked to leave that part out of my original Dumpling Soup manuscript?).

My mom prepared her last New Year’s feast two years ago. At 88, she was still a champion chopper with hands that smelled of garlic, a tireless, generous cook who always made extra so everyone could take something home. Cooking, her special way of showing love, was so integral to her identity that she became somewhat despondent when failing health forced her to stop.

Fork over the cookies!

Speaking of Santa and rekindling childhood memories, I only vaguely remember meeting Santa once, and there wasn’t any discussion of whether I’d been naughty or nice, or what was on my Christmas wish list. Judging from the only surviving Santa photo in our family album, I was quite terrified of the man in the red suit. Now, if he’d offered me a few sugar cookies we could have become fast friends. 🙂

Despite my early Santa trauma, I still believe in him, the spirit of Christmas, and the value of giving. Every day I still wish for peace on earth, good will towards men, and a time when all colors and stripes of human beings can live together in harmony. And if only we could somehow slow things down so kids can retain their innocence a little while longer!

But we are rich with Christmases past, striving to make Christmases present and future the best they can be. And yes, it’s too easy to lose sight of what really matters. So, bring on the “midnight mass and mistletoe/Christmas carols and candle glow/Sleigh bells ringing across the snow . . . ”

As much as I love my laptop, I mourn our loss of humanity, our allegiance to electronic screens vs. real face-to-face contact marked by kindness and respect. People are not machines.

This will be my final post of 2014, an eventful year marked by sadness as well as joy. I have lost one parent, but the other will celebrate his 100th Christmas next week. Thank you for spending some time here this past year — for your likes, comments and discussions, for always arriving hungry. As before, there will always be a place for you at the Alphabet Soup table, and we’ve much to look forward to in the New Year — cool author and illustrator interviews, reviews, delicious recipes, Indie Artist Spotlights, poetry, tea, Paddington movie, Colin Firth, Downton Abbey!

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or all three — enjoy and be merry!

May all your holiday wishes come true. Make some good memories, like “years and years ago,” worthy of the years to come.

See you in a bit. 🙂


Jama, Mr. Cornelius, and 30-something Paddingtons


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We’re pleased to announce that Anna E. Jordan has won a signed copy of Catch That Cookie by Hallie Durand and David Small. Congratulations, Anna! Please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, and we’ll send your prize out to you today!! Thanks to everyone for entering this surprise giveaway, and thanks to Hallie and David for donating the book :)!

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poetryfriday180The inimitable, immensely talented Buffy Silverman is hosting today’s Roundup at Buffy’s Blog (I love the name “Buffy”). Put on your elf shoes and scamper over to check out the full menu of poetic goodies being served up in the blogosphere this week.


I leave you with this beautiful rendition of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” (“Ellen’s Third Song”) sung in German by American vocalist Barbara Bonney. I had only heard it sung in Latin before and didn’t realize it was originally part of Schubert’s Opus 52, seven poems loosely translated from Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem, The Lady of the Lake. This sublime, soul-stirring piece is definitely worth a listen, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed by holiday craziness. It will comfort, make you remember, give you hope. ★

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

56 thoughts on “friday feast: roger mcgough’s alternative santa (and a holiday blog break)

  1. Can I tell you how much I love conductor Cornelius leading a choir of chocolate bears?? Thanks for sharing your beautiful spirit with us all year, Jama! All the best in 2015!


    1. Cornelius has many hidden talents :). Thanks for being such a loyal reader and commenter, Tabatha. Have a great holiday and awesome 2015!


  2. Jama, what a beautiful post. It really is loving people that matters most, in the end, isn’t it? And the holidays bring up those wonderful memories of people we’ve loved. Of all the memories you shared, my favorite detail is the covered buttons on the yellow cardigan – isn’t it funny how one detail like that can remain so vivid? AND, despite your editors, I love the poker-playing parents! Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the new year ahead.


    1. Thanks for sharing that beautiful moment from your daughter’s wedding. I can just imagine it . . . sigh.

      The holidays are usually both happy and sad — while caught up in joyous revelry, there are always those underlying feelings of missing people, times gone by, and a somewhat startling reckoning of one’s life. I don’t know why that yellow cardigan still stands out in my mind. Those buttons were covered with the same yarns used for the sweater — I thought that was pretty cool. 🙂 Poker was a big deal on my mother’s side of the family. The editors were concerned about my advocating gambling in a children’s book. 😀


  3. P.S. That Ave Maria is lovely – what a song. My brother-in-law sang it, accompanied by a cello and violin, at my daughter’s wedding ten years ago – it was outside, under a blue summer sky, in the shade of several evergreens – my beautiful daughter listening quietly, and her husband-to-be gazing at her, totally in love. It was a magic moment.


  4. I always know that I will come away filled up with happiness after visiting you, Jama. I loved the poem (Santafaction!), but I don’t want to even think of Santa holed up with a computer! And especially loved your Christmas memories, some like my own, with aunts and uncles’ gifts to me wonderful surprises as I grew up, and games, games, games. I love that you all gave prizes during the day-how terrific is that! Merriest of Christmases to you and yours, & Happy Birthday to your father! Thank you for every loving post!


    1. Yes, I vividly remember the fun of having games and prizes on Christmas Day. It was also fun to be the host family, and to think of what games to play, and help think of good prizes.

      The best of holidays to you and your family, Linda. And thanks for always taking the time to read and comment here. Don’t know how you keep up with everything!


  5. How is it I so often have tears in my eyes when leaving a comment over here? What a beautiful post and tribute to the hands and stories which helped make you the amazing, wonderful person you are! Like Julie, I was completely captivated by that yellow sweater with the covered buttons. […and the poker games!]

    The recording is gorgeous – thanks for sharing. To you and yours, Mr. Cornelius and the whole Alphabet Soup entourage, many blessings and warmest wishes. Looking forward to a delicious 2015!


    1. Thanks so much, Robyn. I loved that sweater, but of course in Hawaii I didn’t have that many chances to wear it. 🙂

      And all the best to you, warmest holiday wishes. Looking forward to all the wonderful things you’ll be sharing in 2015!


  6. Bah humbug to–yes, we all love free shipping, but we all love wonder and magic, too. And speaking of magic, what magical descriptions you shared of your Christmas pasts–and those wonderful New Year celebrations! I’m imagining your grandma’s dumpling soup, and getting hungry 🙂 Enjoy your holidays, and thanks for the warmth and delight you share on your blog.


    1. Buffy Buffy Buffy — maybe I should rename myself Buffy. 🙂

      Those food-filled family oriented holidays are among my most favorite memories. I still miss those delicious New Year celebrations at my grandmother’s house. Many hands made the food, many mouths ate it, all shared the laughter. Happy Holidays to you!


  7. A 100-pound bag of rice as a door prize. Limbo contests. Poker-playing parents (at our house, it most likely would have been “Oh Hell” — don’t think that would have made it past the editors either). I love all these images, Jama. And I, too, mourn the loss of human interaction, replaced by too many electronic screens. I have a love-hate relationship with my own. In fact, I’m going to leave it now so that I can finish planting all the plants I picked up at the end-of-season sales . . .

    Sending warm holiday wishes to you and Len. You can bet I’ll be back for more art, food, and Jama wisdom in the new year!


    1. Admire your resolve to get some planting done — you wouldn’t find me outside playing with dirt with these temps. Of course there’s not much planting going on here any time of the year since the deer will eat everything. 🙂

      Sending warm holiday wishes right back at you! Thanks for reading and visiting, Linda.


  8. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Jama! Know that we’ll probably be reading Dumpling Soup aloud on New Year’s Eve, just as we have for the past six or seven years. 🙂 I suppose eventually my kids will outgrow it, but it really has become a lovely part of our celebration.


    1. Nice to hear DS is still part of your New Year’s celebration, Debbie. 🙂 It was because of the book that we “met” online. Please feel free to play poker too if you like :D.


    1. Thanks, Liz. The bears are hooked on online shopping — always looking for marmalade and jam. Have a great holiday yourself. 🙂


  9. I love your blog header for the holidays! Fruits, flowers and cookies – and friends, I think, with lovely hats and costumes. I was already smiling as I began to read your sweet post. Wishing you wonderful, magical holiday memories for past, present and future dear Jama. Looking forward to dishing Downton with you in January!

    I had a yellow cardigan too – and I was wearing it the day someone decided to plop me atop a giant Clydesdale-sized horse named Shawnee. I was three or four, and sitting that high felt like sitting on the roof of the barn. He bolted, I slid off and my Dad caught me. “Oh, he doesn’t like yellow,” said the horse’s owner. Since then I have not been fond of yellow either! 🙂


    1. Oh my! Thanks for sharing that story, Cathy. Yellow trauma!

      Can’t wait for the new DA season to begin next month — good to know I’ll have someone to dish with :).

      I love Lisi Martin’s work. I’ve enjoyed many of her greeting cards over the years. I like your taste in art — I know we both LOVE Carl Larsson 🙂

      Wishing you a fabulous holiday season with friends and family. Sounds like we’re all in for a snowy winter. Time to tuck in, keep warm, and read lots of good books. And drink tea with Mr. Firth of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you. I always love your blog but this posting was particularly thoughtful and lovely. Have a wonderful christmas and may your father have a wonderful new year!


  11. Enjoyed the pictures and the writing here. Thanks for brightening my day. Have a wonderful holiday. Your heart shows through.


  12. Oh, Jama, this post had me chasing memories of my own. Peace to you and yours. And, I want to tell you that I was lucky enough to see a preview showing of the first episode of the new Downton Abbey season and YOU WILL LOVE IT!


    1. Lucky you! So glad to hear that the new season looks very promising. I can’t wait! Have a beautiful, delicious Christmas, Diane. And a very Beary New Year :)!


  13. Jama, you embody the spirit of Santa, of Christmas, and of giving. Have a beautiful holiday, and a joyous new year, and I look forward to spending more time with you in 2015 (when I will continue to wish it was IRL time.) 🙂


    1. Right back at you, Karen! All of us here wish you and your family the Beariest of Christmases and every good wish for the New Year!


    1. Happy Holidays to you too — hope Santa is good to you and Josie this year. Just don’t eat all his cookies before Christmas Eve :).


  14. Your post touched my heart, Jama. Your descriptions of familiy gatherings evoke sweet memories of holidays spent with my family. I want Santa to stay just the same, too. I believe!
    Have a wonderful holiday and thanks for continuing to bless my life with the writings your blog.


    1. I’m not surprised to hear you believe too — :). Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m so glad our paths crossed online this past year. Can’t wait for your new books to come out ! Happy Holidays!!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh, so sweet, Jama. I love your childhood memories. (Except for Santa. He’s always scary to kids, isn’t he?) Hope you have an exceptionally lovely holiday.


  16. I love your Santa photo, Jama! I agree–modern technology can be very helpful, but can definitely put more distance between people. I really liked the poem you shared! Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!


    1. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Without modern technology, the two of us would never have “met.” Glad you liked the poem. Warm holiday wishes to you and yours, Becky!


  17. Thank you for this post that’s so rich in your Christmas memories! Merry Christmas to you and all of yours!


  18. Dear Jama,

    What a wonderful post, thank you for sharing your memories with us! And what a year 2014 has been for you, I wish you have had restful and relaxing Holidays – here’s to 2015, may it be a bright and happy!

    Many warm wishes from freezing cold Finland!



  19. Your christmas memories brought a tear to my eye, they were so warm and almost like a hug using words 🙂
    Happy Holidays and New Year my friend, all the best for 2015!

    Choc Chip Uru


    1. Aw thanks, Uru! Hope your holidays were splendidly delicious. I’m looking forward to feasting at your blog in 2015. 🙂


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