Ni4kids columnist Alan Meban admits that he’s not a big fan of Christmas…

My overall humbug attitude towards the season is mostly centred around the surrounding nonsense that stresses people’s wallets, relationships, travel plans and wellbeing. A bustling Christmas market really doesn’t lift my spirits in the same way as being caught unaware by carol singers when I step onto a street, or finding a moment of calm stillness while walking at night with my breath visible against the frosty air.

I do admit that it’s a treat to get a plateful of turkey and stuffing – you can hold the ham – crunchy roast potatoes, a good dollop of cranberry sauce and even a handful of sprouts on Christmas Day. A seasonal survey that dropped into my inbox explains that on average each household throws out five sprouts, three parsnips, three balls of stuffing, and a scandalous three and a half roast potatoes. That’s a shocking waste and won’t be happening if I’m carrying the plates back into the kitchen and snaffling a few more calories while putting everything away.

Another indulgence is the rich abundance of festive family theatre at this time of year, though reviewing five Christmas shows in seven days recently nearly brought on a bad bout of tinselitis. Around Belfast, if you want a traditional community panto with lots of laughs, songs and audience participation, I can recommend The Frozen Princess in the Waterfront Studio. A Christmas Carol in The MAC is well-adapted for younger children, and I’ve a soft spot for Peter Pan in the Lyric Theatre, particularly since I’ve a small person appearing as a Neverlander in the alternating youth ensemble.

“We can’t change how we look; but we can choose how we behave” is Belle’s challenge to the cursed Prince Sebastian in the Grand Opera House’s Beauty and the Beast which has some really dazzling special effects as May McFettridge celebrates her 30th pantomime.

“There’s something very powerful in the story of A Christmas Carol when you realise that some of Scrooge’s behaviour is based on his misinterpretation of events that happened long ago. Sounds a bit like our local politics!”

The plot of The Frozen Princess can be traced back to 1844 and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. A magic mirror distorts the appearance of everything, magnifying what is bad and ugly, and failing to reflect the good and beautiful. Sounds like Andersen had a premonition of the modern news agenda and the worst aspects of social media that tend to make us self-critical and are having such a crushing effect on the mental health of young people. Resolution requires someone else’s love and desire to break the trapped character out of cool negativity and recapture their cheery disposition.

There’s something very powerful in the story of A Christmas Carol when you realise that some of Scrooge’s behaviour is based on his misinterpretation of events that happened long ago. Sounds a bit like our local politics! And a warning too that we should make sure the hurts carried by those we love don’t fester and grow ever larger and more poisonous.

The figure at the heart of Peter Pan is an example of a nonchalant and self-centred character who forgets in order to cope. Everyone who spends time in Neverland seems to lose their grip on the past, with the Darling brothers no longer remembering their mother and life in the nursery. It takes ever-sensible sister Wendy Darling to take the lead and recognise that the children need to rescue themselves, along with the other Lost Boys they’re living with, and go home to be reunited with the fretting Darling parents.

There is plenty of food for thought – and high-quality productions – you can check out in local theatres right across Northern Ireland.

A lot of these seasonal performances involve the transformation of a central character, with some form of intervention engineered to confront them with fresh perspective and the chance to step off their treadmill and change for the better.

And in a quiet moment during this season of anticipation, preparation and reflection, maybe we’ll all get the chance to step off our treadmills and address any Snow Queens, Scrooges, Peter Pans or Wendy Darlings we find in the lives of our families. Until the next edition, I’ll try and control my feeling of humbug and wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Image credit: A Christmas Carol, The Mac, Belfast

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

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