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Here's wishing you a wicked Christmas
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Do people still do Christmas cards, or is it just me? The festive imagery in the most unusual of the few that I have seen this year is truly strange, depicting the temptation of St Anthony the Great. What this has to do with Christmas was not immediately apparent.
In more innocent times we were taught that Christmas was about the incarnation of God by way of the birth of Jesus in a manger, and as foreseen by the three wise men. The temptation of St Anthony, however, (for those who need reminding in godless times) is about the power of faith to overcome the temptations of the flesh. It has been a popular theme in Western art for hundreds of years, and depicts St Anthony in the desert (a reference to his home in what is now Libya) as a naked man, holding up a crucifix while fending off a parade of taunting fiends about to destroy him. Salvador Dali did one of the more famous ones, in which the parade came by on horses with long legs.
Obviously the popularity of the St Anthony theme has something to do with the fact that, especially in more prurient times, it gave an artist the licence to depict the truly outrageous under the guise of presenting something virtuous.
The version I came across this month, when I first looked at it, seemed to show St Anthony fending off a circle of beasts poised to devour him but without any naked woman offering him her breasts, as for example in the versions by Dali.
My one also shows Saint Tony not in the traditional desert but a field of snow, hence its Christmassy feel. The snarling beasts encircling him are scaled and winged, with tails, claws and long fangs. What temptation they could possibly represent, in exchange for him renouncing his faith, was puzzling, but for an article I happened to read in this newspaper the same day, about the wildlife market in Xingfu, just up the road near Guangzhou. There, all manner of living things are on sale to be eaten - snakes, crocodiles, lizards, monkeys, you name it. The penny dropped - my Christmas card depicts the temptation of a local St Anthony, who is about to eat, not be eaten. I may be reading far too much into this, but can only imagine that the sender was wishing me - as I do you - a happy Christmas, Guangdong style.
Alex Lo is on leave