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Why your Christmases will always be white

Sam Jacob on the fabricated landscape of a dying season

Denise Scott Brown told me last week about her childhood bemusement at being asked to make Christmas cards depicting snowy scenes of Surrey in the summer of colonial South Africa. The idealised cultural image, dislocated by imperialism: Downs against veldt; winter against summer; Europe against Africa.

But snowy Christmas scenes look just as alien when you’re actually in Surrey. Christmas images do not depict atmospheric conditions, temperature or geography. They are images that describe a mythical place that never existed anywhere.

The winter wonderland of Christmas is an image of nature that’s been fed through thousands of years of culture – replayed by literature, movies, music and images on a feedback-drenched loop. It’s a myth overwritten to the point of illegibility – from its pagan origins, through its Christian mythology, to its status as a symbol for varied secular interests (St Nick as a Coca Cola trademark; John Lennon’s hippiedom singalongs). It’s ended up a collection of half-broken, half-forgotten sentiments distilled into super-strength imagery.

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