Review by Frank Plowright
Having established his grumpy Grandad version of Father Christmas to great acclaim, a follow-up was only natural, and Raymond Briggs in no way disappoints. Apart from his animals, this Father Christmas is a solitary sort, lacking the helpful elves and Mrs Claus. If something needs doing, it’s up to him to get it done, and so it is that having decided to head off on his summer holidays, he has to convert the sled into a caravan. Briggs conveys this beautifully, the hard working Father Christmas simultaneously practising simple French as he labours. This is a joke Briggs perpetuates as Father Christmas begins in France what develops into a holiday tour.
With Father Christmas going about his traditional business in Father Christmas, it wasn’t as obvious how easily he can be connected to characters seen in other Briggs books. He’s personally unconventional to the point of quirkyness, yet a traditionalist who prefers things the way they always been, will have a moan, but isn’t one to offend, and his loveable side is there for all to see. Briggs would grow into that personality himself, but interviews reveal he based it on his father. A running joke is that it’s always the children who recognise him while adults remain oblivious.
The illustrations are even funnier than previously, Briggs getting great mileage from an assortment of unsuitable clothing as Father Christmas misjudges how to fit in, and also incorporates national stereotypes to good effect. The vastness of everything in the USA earns the book’s only spread, with Briggs again emphasising empty skies with watercolour. Because he’s enjoying himself rather than carrying out his duty, this is a happier Father Christmas and so big smiling faces are plentiful.
Having exhausted the potential of the character, Briggs next moved to Fungus the Bogeyman, an equally against the grain depiction, yet the genial star not far removed from Father Christmas. Both Father Christmas books were also once available combined in hardcover as The Complete Father Christmas.