Do They Know It’s Christmas Time At All?
A version of this piece was written in 2017 for another website but it seems to have been removed. In 2018 I’m way more in the Christmas spirit than I have been in previous years (though I’m working much less at the mall than I ever have before; correlation? I think not). I also thought this story was just as relevant as it was last year as it is a shining example of the kindness that the Christmas season can, and should bring out in people.
I used to LOVE Christmas, but a job in retail has all but crushed my holiday spirit. Thirteen years of working in the mall and you really get to see the worst in people. (There are only so many Ms. Von Middleagedrichbitch who are buying enough “40% off the Holiday Collection” clothes to outfit a village that you can deal with.) I was reminded of this again just a few weeks ago on Black Friday, (which is a part of American culture that has made its way up North that I would gladly return for a full refund if I could). That evening, my already Grinchy sized heart likely shrunk three sizes by seeing what felt like uber greed and commercialism. (Please note that I too am not exempt from this uber greed and commercialism; I frequently purchase lottery tickets last night in hopes of winning the jackpot and buying anything and everything, I’ve ever wanted).
Sometimes though, even when the world feels like it is on fire, people are nice. Some customers were nice that night. These nice people did nothing to foster Christmas spirit in me though. No, that happened about a week later. How did it happen? You might ask. It didn’t happen because of chestnut praline lattes, it didn’t happen with downtown Christmas parades, it didn’t even happen with the “Jesus” episode of Frasier. It happened because of Band Aid.
In case you aren’t aware, (or you didn’t click on the above-embedded link) Band Aid was “the cream of the crop of pop music talent, [who performed] for free to help victims of the famine in Ethiopia” in 1984. At that time, pop music’s elite included Bananarama, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, Sting, U2, and Wham. These voices can be heard on the track “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” a song that was released to raise money to support the famine that ravaged Ethiopia at the time and sold over eleven million copies worldwide. In the past thirty plus years since its release, "Do They Know It's Christmas" has been covered a number of times with proceeds being donated to fight more famine and even Ebola in 2014.
Being a pop culture junkie and lover of all things U2, it is no surprise that I am a big fan of this song and that I would want this single on vinyl, the way it was released in 1984. (I also enjoy the versions by Band Aid 20, and 30 as well). I had posted on the Facebook page of a popular local record store, hoping that they may have a used copy. Sadly, I was not in luck, and no record was in stock.
I did get a notification from a person named “LA Ryan” whose profile picture was a very close up of a slightly scary looking kitty who told me that they had the single. They said they were willing to part with it for $5, which I was more than okay with paying. They did say there was a mark on the record and was unsure of its condition. I attempted to make plans to pick up the record but they then proposed that they drop it off at a local business, within walking distance to my house and that it was now free of charge. They feared the mark on the record would make it unplayable and they were just happy that the single would get some use.
This. This was what put me in the Christmas spirit. On the surface of things, a total stranger did a very kind deed. Even more, this song means so much to me for very sentimental reasons. Aside from being a Christmas classic, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” became the cornerstone for the holiday soirees I hosted from 2009-2014. It started out as an impromptu sort of karaoke performance at a party after several cups of “Christmas cheer”. Someone recorded it and it was so bad that it was good.
It was either myself or one of my friends who (possibly only jokingly) suggested that this become a yearly tradition and after that "Band Aid On Balt" was born and became a thing of its own. After a successful second rendition in 2010, complete with lyric sheets, we started raising money for causes, in the same vein as the original Band Aid. In 2011, we raised over one hundred dollars for the Feed Network who was helping those affected by famine in the Horn of Africa. The next year, we did the same thing but linked up with DC Comics' "We Can Be Heroes" campaign, which donated funds to Save the Children, International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps. Things were scaled back a bit in 2013 but we collected non-perishable food items for local food banks in St. John's. These things became a production all in themselves. We even had performances from people who could not attend my Christmas parties because they lived outside of the province and I would send them lyric sheets and directions. (I was a sometimes-difficult director I will admit).
Band Aid on Balt came to symbolize what the Christmas season meant to me. It was a get together between friends during the holidays that could rival any classic Newfoundland kitchen party. For three years, we drank too much, sang really bad karaoke very seriously but also did some good for people in need. "Do They Know It's Christmas" really came to mean a lot to me because of this.
The last Band Aid on Balt happened in 2014 when I moved from the apartment and that is where the tradition has since been laid to rest. That year there were no plans for Band Aid but a friend of mine organized it as a surprise. There weren't any causes supported but it was a good send-off for a crappy basement apartment that had housed a lot of fun memories among friends. I've since lost contact with many of these people either because we drifted apart or the friendships ended on bad terms which seems to be what happens as you go through life, so it’s fun to play this song and to look back on some really great times. I can't tell you how good it made me feel to host these parties and bring these people together to eat, drink and be merry.
I just want to thank LA Ryan, whoever he or she may be for getting this record to me. This pop culture junkie, U2 superfan, and general lover of nostalgia is very thankful for this little Christmas miracle. It sort of reignited my holiday spirit and reminded me of ghosts of Christmases past. Who knows; maybe one day I'll try and resurrect this holiday tradition with the people currently in my life; after all, the thirty-sixth anniversary of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” is just around the corner and I intend to spin this record for years to come.