Fenwicks' fearsome festivities

Alex Ridley uncovers the terrifying truth about the Christmas story Fenwicks are really depicting in their windows this season through his satire of their narrative

23rd November 2015

Unless you’re particularly unobservant, or have been making a conscious effort to avoid the oncoming tide of early Christmas promotion, then you’ll have no doubt seen the smorgasbord of twee automata adorning the window of Fenwick’s on Northumberland Street. Nothing much to it, you’d think… but read between the panes, and it becomes apparent there is a complicated, dark narrative behind the cheers…

it is obvious that they are being used as a metaphor for the pre-colonisation native

The first two windows depict cadres of elves floating around a fictionalised Newcastle skyline while horrifying child-machines look up at them in wonder. But this heart-warming scene conceals a far darker narrative, a twisted postcolonial retelling of imperial oppression. As the elves swoop by on “magical” candy canes and umbrellas – lest we forget that native populations believed technology to be “magic” – they spread their ideology, the quasi-religious, quasi-capitalist Christmas to the ignorant, wide-eyed children who populate the windows. It is obvious that they are being used as a metaphor for the pre-colonisation native, Rousseau’s noble savage. Furnished in ill-fitting Christmas trappings – forced upon them by their new Yuletide masters, no doubt – they stare blankly, unable to comprehend their way of life transforming.

Indeed, in the third window it becomes obvious that these Lapland conquistadores bring nothing but trouble to their childish ingénues. With no respect for law – receiving a callously disregarded speeding ticket from the Northumbria Police – Santa, clearly a clever, ironic comparison to the economic forces that compel empire, has crashed his sleigh into a rooftop, which, as the narration squeals, may have “ruined Christmas!” The roof is literally torn away from these poor children by the forces of empire. In their powerless state, all they can hope for is not yuletide glee but hypothermia and a sad death – but this does not worry the winsome narrator. No, they fear that the presents, the trinkets of the bourgeois, may not be delivered in time!

does this fantastical conclusion imply that a mundane solution to these modern tensions is impossible?

For in the fourth window, the fascinating story twists once again, from a story of migration into a tragic Marxist narrative. To save Santa, this incarnation of bourgeois ideals, and ensure his capitalist function is carried out, the elves, the oppressors, are ironically cast into the role of the oppressed, the proletariat. Gripping hammers, cranks and other industrial tools – symbolism reminiscent of the USSR’s iconography – the elves dredge Santa out of the chimney he is stuck in using ropes, combined labour of the “little people”. Though they oppress the innocent children with their iconography, it is revealed here that these Imperialist slavers are in turn slaves to their own system, a tension highlighted by the ropes festooning Santa’s legs. Might these ropes also be the tools of the future Elf Revolution?

And yet the narrative provides us with no satisfactory answer. The final window reveals that all of these troubles were solved by a magic carpet, a starkly unreal twist in an otherwise shockingly real tale of colonial oppression. What are we to make of this? Does this fantastical conclusion imply that a mundane solution to these modern tensions is impossible? Does the narrator abdicate judgement on the events? Or is it simply the first instalment in a longer-running, further-reaching saga, to be continued next Yuletide? Take a trip by the window yourself and decide.

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