View of Dead Sea from inside cave
(thanks, Eric Matson)
In the autumn of 1975, Greg Lake – the Lake in prog-rock supergroup Emerson, Lake, and Palmer – embarked with a production crew to one of the most famous locations on Earth to shoot a music video for his holiday song, "I Believe in Father Christmas." Images of sand dunes, palm trees, and head-covered Bedouin camel-riders flash between shots of this '70s-style rock balladeer strumming along on his custom acoustic guitar while on location in a series of caves near Qumran, Israel – just off the coast of the Dead Sea – where, in 1946, three young shepherd boys had happened upon ancient clay jars which contained what are now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Qumran is an archeological site in the West Bank of Israel, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. In 1949, what became known as Cave 1 – the first scroll-bearing cave – was excavated. Ultimately, 981 different texts were discovered hidden in those surrounding caves between 1946 and 1956. Most of the texts are written in Hebrew with some in Aramaic and Greek, and include historical and religious significance, since they are works which were later compiled into the Hebrew Bible, or Torah.
Caves at Qumran
Traditionally, the scrolls are believed to have been written by one of the ancient Jewish sects, the Essenes, who were the Franciscan Monks of Judea. Not all have been identified as of today, but 40 percent of them are copies of texts from the Torah and another 30 percent are from the same time period, though not incorporated into the Jewish canon. For the millions of Christians across the world, this would be the most gargantuan archaeological discovery, if not of the 20th century, than of human history.
In a 2013 Songfacts interview
, Greg said, "The beginning of the story is religious and it goes back to Israel… It [the shoot] involved climbing across this ledge and there was hundreds of feet of sheer drop, both sides… So I got inside the Dead Sea Scroll caves. They’re tiny little caves the size of a bathroom, really.” But is it really a Christmas song? Many listeners would argue no, particularly when paying closer attention to the lyrics.
Dead Sea Scroll"They sold me a dream of Christmas, they sold me a silent night, and they told me a fairy story, ‘till I believed in the Israelite."
All in all, not a rousing endorsement of the holiday season. Lake wrote the song as a protest or stern chastisement of the commercialization of Christmas. Upon intense scrutiny, I find it hard to believe that was the composer’s sole purpose, although the subtext is quite there. What does jump out at me is what co-writer Peter Sinfield has claimed the song to be about, specifically, the loss of childhood innocence.
The lyrics do, in fact, paint a vivid picture of the narrator as a boy being taught the true meaning of Christmas, only to find out later in life that it’s all a clever disguise. Lake told Mojo
magazine, “I find it appalling when people say it’s politically incorrect to talk about Christmas. You’ve got to talk about ‘the Holiday Season.’ Christmas was a time of family warmth and love. There was a feeling of forgiveness, acceptance. And I do believe in Father Christmas.”
Unraveled Dead Sea Scrolls
(thanks Abraham Habermann)
Which begs the question: Why inter-cut stock footage clips of the Vietnam War with his otherwise beautifully-shot Dead Sea music video? Personally, I’m proud of artists who have the courage to write non-traditional Christmas songs that challenge the status quo. It’s not good business, however, when radio stations and compilation albums flat out refuse to include your song on the same playlists with other more light-hearted tunes. If an artist is capable of churning out a radio-friendly and catchy Christmas song, they’ll be set for life.
Every year, millions of people will hear and fall in love with their music. Unfortunately for Greg Lake, other than a vaguely recognizable hook in the melody, I can barely recall hearing "I Believe In Father Christmas" ever in my life, and I certainly hadn’t seen the video before doing the research to write this article. This is quite a shame, because it’s a cute little ditty that would’ve earned itself hours of Christmas radio airplay with some slightly friendlier lyrics. Once a progressive rocker, always a progressive rocker, I suppose.
~ Justin Novelli
I Believe In Father Christmas Songfacts
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