‘What Christmas really meant to me’: Greg Lake on his often-misunderstood Yuletide classic

Greg Lake says “I Believe in Father Christmas” came to him almost by accident, when he started singing a familiar Yuletide standard over a newly written riff that stubbornly refused to go away.

“No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t seem to develop it into a song,” Lake says. “It actually started to drive me crazy, and one day I found myself humming the tune to ‘Jingle Bells’ over the riff. This is the sort of thing that happens to writers when they get a few steps away from total insanity.”

He confided all of this to writing partner Peter Sinfield, who worked with Lake both in King Crimson and in Emerson Lake and Palmer. Sinfield suggested that he adapt the music into a Christmas song, but Lake admits he was cool to the idea — ironic since, in 1975, the track would become a No. 2 1975 solo hit on the UK charts before finding a home on ELP’s 1977 Works Volume II album. Even today, its message of anti-commercialism is sometimes misunderstood as being anti-Christmas. Lake says it’s anything but.

“I really don’t like most of those good-time Christmas party songs, but after a while I began to reflect on what Christmas really meant to me as a kid — and how this had somehow got lost in the commercial feeding frenzy that has taken priority in more recent years,” Lake admits. “Pete and I started to think about this and after a while we began to identify the core belief that children have about Christmas that really capsulizes the magic and benevolent spirit of Christmas.”

By getting back to basics, to his own early belief in the season — and specifically how “the story of the nativity represents the concept of peace on earth, good will to all men,” he says — Lake was able, finally, to break the creative log jam.

Lake and Sinfield, nearly simultaneously, came upon the song’s key line and title: “It was the magic key,” Lake says, “which unlocked the door to the song: I Believe in Father Christmas.”

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  • http://bloggerhythms.blogspot.com Charlie

    The bombastic 45 RPM version with the full orchestra and choir is way overblown but fantastic. It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs of all time.

  • http://N/A Steve

    I could listen to this song if only I knew why Greg Lake says ” They told me a fairy story, ’till I believed in the Israelite”, which to me indicates he is an atheist, and does not believe in not only the birth of, but Jesus Christ, altogether.

    I have since put the song away and won’t listen to it any longer since he will not come right out and tell us what that line means. I know what I *think* it means, but I want to hear it from his own lips.

    • Jimmy Nelson

      So, “he will not come right out and tell us” about the song’s deeper context? Isn’t that the point of these comments from Mr. Lake?

      Meanwhile, in the above report, he is quoted as saying “the story of the nativity represents the concept of peace on earth, good will to all men.” That makes Greg Lake’s beliefs clear to me, since the concept of “the nativity” derives from the gospels of Luke and Matthew, not from some atheist text.

      People who do not believe in Jesus would never refer to his birth in such a manner. That’s patently obvious.

      • http://N/A Steve

        People who believe in Jesus Christ would never call it ” a fairy story”!

        • Jimmy Nelson

          No, Steve, but they might say — within the context of a critique — that it sounds like nothing more than a fairy tale in light of the way some of those of faith have turned this holiday into a engine for commerce … which is the point of the song.

          • http://N/A Steve

            I tried to make excuses and think of everything possible to try to make sense of that line, and then I decided, it just isn’t worth it. Then, when I read how Greg Lake feels about “religion” and God, in the book “The Show that Never Ends”, I realized that he said exactly what he meant. To him it’s a “fairy story”. He doesn’t believe in Jehovah God. He believes in a “higher power”, but will not acknowledge Jesus Christ, or Jehovah God as our Creator. All you have to do is read the interviews or listen to the ones pertaining to the song. He never comes right out and says anything at all about what Christmas is all about, which is the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ and instead him-haws. So, it is no wonder that people believe the song to be anti-Christmas as well as anti-Christ. The lyrics tell the story.

  • Barry

    Always loved this song. I was highly amused by the irony of Sainsburys using it as the background to their Christmas television adverts!

  • Mark

    Lake is likely an agnostic or atheist judging from the lyrics (which he wrote) of “Infinite Space/The Only Way” from Tarkus where he sings, “Don’t be afraid / Man is man-made”.

    His statement about the nativity scene is what it symbolizes to him not whether it is a historical occurrence which it certainly isn’t.

    Christians should understand that we all do not and cannot believe as they do. That doesn’t make us wicked or evil or immoral. It doesn’t mean we can’t say something worthwhile and I find that kind of attitude arrogant and intolerant and a good reason I am not a Christian or religious in nature.

    If you can’t listen to the song because you don’t feel Mr. Lake is Christian enough for your tastes, then don’t listen to it. Just go away.

    • http://N/A Steve

      Calling something that others believe–be they Christian or not– “a fairy story” is nothing but a slap in the face of everyone who is a believer.

      And FYI It isn’t a question of Mr. Lake being a Christian or not, nor was that my point. I own a copy of the book “The Show that Never Ends”, so I have known Greg Lakes feelings about God. He also made a statement about people with blind faith in that book. But I think it is rather interesting that he doesn’t want people to think the song is “anti Christian” yet he will not come right out and say exactly what that line “They told me a fairy story till I believe in the Israelite” is supposed to mean, and that line is exactly why many people believe it is anti-Christian/Christmas, so, I don’t know why he says that it is “anything but”.

      And I am not going to “go away”. I have just as much right to express my views as you do!

  • noel

    Very happy Christmas to Mr. Lake, a great musician.