‘What on earth is the reason for all that screeching and caterwauling?’ Zeus gestured towards the night-time glow of Gibraltar, spread below the Rock like strings of multi-coloured fairy lights. Most of his brood were either at work or at play among these lights earning – or spending – the cash the gods had been forced to find in the months that followed their emigration from Mount Olympus to the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula. This evening only the Great Father of the Gods, his wife Hera, and their gad-about son Apollo were seated comfortably in front of the 50-inch TV screen.
The Olympian trio were watching yet another re-run of ‘Strictly Come Baking’ a popular instalment of the show in which so-called ‘celebrities’ competed against each other to make a rich fruit cake topped with marzipan and shaped like a Douglas fir. A former MP named Ann Widdecombe was about to pronounce on a set of particularly sagging branches when the shrill decibels rose from somewhere in the city.
‘It’s just choir practice for the Carols,’ said Apollo, who recently had encountered similar sounds in varying degrees of screech or sweetness during his daily global circumnavigations.
‘Carols? Aren’t they something to do with all that Christmas nonsense?’ Zeus raised a disapproving eyebrow.
‘Spot on, Pop.’ Although since leaving the sheltered environment of Olympus, Apollo’s travels left little time to mix with mortals, like his siblings he now used a string of vernacular words including ‘Pop’, whose apparent lack of traditional respect infuriated Zeus. ‘Yes. Reindeer, Santas, Arctic elves, balloons, crackers, plum puddings’ Apollo continued.
‘I thought we had left that particular jamboree behind when we quit Greece. Don’t tell me that these folk celebrate it too.’ Zeus hated everything about the so-called ‘Festive Season’ – particularly as he was not included in the praises and prayers of Christmas rites. In earlier millennia the festivities did not reach Mount Olympus and its surrounds – the Greeks were more interested in Pasca, and rumours of frolicking in distant Athens were easy to ignore.
But a century or more before escaping from the noisy flood of refugees and the impoverished Greek economy – roughly from the time a plump woman dressed in black had mounted the throne of some rain-swept northern land – a German driving a sledge drawn by antlered creatures very different from the stags his daughter hunted had trespassed into the winter heavens.
Since then there had been several angry encounters between Claus, a newcomer to the skies, and Zeus who considered them to be his personal fief. Eventually the German sleigh-man accepted it was unwise to drive his team of reindeer over, or near Mount Olympus, where, as he urged the animals on by name, Zeus could be heard to rumble: ‘I’ll give ‘em Donner and Blitzen’. So saying, the Great God had hurled one of his signature thunderbolts at the Christmas cortege. It struck the sleigh with a satisfying THUNK, strewing a bombardment of teddy bears, Barbie Dolls, cow-boy suits, nurses’ uniforms, and board games across northern Greece and into the Adriatic, where their discovery led to a spate of short-selling shares in Toys “R” Us.
Hera had been similarly irked; the droppings of the terrified creatures spattered her favourite reclining cloud. The mess was proving difficult to remove until – in one of those serendipitous moments which sometimes bless both mortals and gods – Athene mentioned having seen, during one of her infrequent visits to Athens, a Dyson centrifugal vacuum cleaner. It was the first of the pantheon’s encounters with Twentieth Century technology and it wasn’t long before the gods converted to some aspects of modern technology. Since arriving in Gibraltar with its plethora of shops providing everything from electric kettles to iPhones and wrap-around televisions, their conversion to high-tech faith had been total.
But, however many new-fangled gadgets the Main Street retailers had imported to boost their festive sales, Zeus’ distaste of Christmas and its trappings was unchanged.
‘It’s outrageous that this Fabian what’s-his-name doesn’t do something to stop it,’ Zeus continued his grumble. ‘Or at least make them sing in tune… and songs worth listening to – like panegyrics,’ he added.
‘Who on earth wants to sing panegyrics when there’re songs by Sting, or Elvis, or that woman with the big boobs?’ Hermes, silent in his suede Hush-puppies, had heard the last part of his father’s harangue as he reached the top of the Rock. ‘What people want are pop songs – though I suppose you could call panegyrics “Pop” songs… seeing as you inspired ‘em, Pop.’
When none of the trio even smiled at the pun, Hermes changed tack. He waved a handful of mail. ‘These will make you laugh.’ (In recent weeks Hermes had made peace with the local trade unionists and was again working for the Post Office.)
‘These are some of the wish-list letters local big-wigs have sent off to the North Pole asking for Christmas presents. The Chief Minister wants a massive cash injection to cover the over-spend on his housing programmes… another is from Greg Butcher, who wants a new harbour that will accommodate the biggest luxury yachts… and one from someone called Samantha who wants a sjambok.’
‘What’s a sjambok?’ asked Athene.
‘A sort of heavy whip made from rhinoceros hide,’ the all-knowing Hera told her. ‘Though what she would want with a whip’s beyond me. And (turning to Hermes) you shouldn’t be reading other people’s mail…even if you know it can’t be delivered. Isn’t that right Zeus?’
But the Father of the God’s wasn’t listening. He was peering in the direction of the caterwauling, which seemed to be getting louder.
And it was. Out of the darkness his other children emerged. They were carolling, though each sang something different. Poseidon was chanting: ’There were three ships on Christmas day in the morning…’, Dionysus: ‘…bring me food and bring me wine…’, Hebe: ‘…shepherds watched their flocks…’, and so on. Each with a different song.
Zeus’ brows rose in readiness to thunder, but as he was about to explode he noticed that his brood were not empty-handed. Ares was bearing Marks & Sparks short-crust mince pies, Poseidon a brace of pheasants acquired from the Naval Dockyard Headquarters kitchens, while Hebe drooped under several cases of Cava which she had received from grateful clients of SG Hambros. There were elaborate boxes of liqueur chocolates which Dionysus insisted he had bought from a shop in Main Street and a DVD of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, which the muse Terpsichore had sent to the Olympian family to wish them a ‘Merry Xmas’.
‘Well, seeing we’re living the life of O’Reillys, McDonald’s, and Goodness Garcia’s, I suppose for once we may as well enjoy ourselves like mortals…’