The best part of Christmas for me is the music. Over the past few weeks I have been listening to all kinds of Christmas songs ranging from standards like “White Christmas” to the novelty songs that greats like Spike Jones made famous.
Since I am a child of the 50s, my music tastes run to albums by Kate Smith, Perry Como, Dolly Parton, Elvis, Bing Crosby and the Boston Pops. Throw the Canadian Brass in there and I’m in seventh heaven.
It seems that anybody who expects to make it big in music is required to do a Christmas album.
Certainly, some shouldn’t have been made. For instance, Lorne Greene had a great voice, but we didn’t need Christmas carols from the Ponderosa. Heavy metal and Christmas are just not a good mashup. Bing Crosby alone is fabulous, but somehow his album with David Bowie just didn’t make my cross over list.
Contemporary artists don’t seem to evoke the same enjoyment, although I was delightfully surprised when a friend introduced me to Pentatonix. But others, like Mariah Carey, David Hasselhof, and who could forget (or maybe who can’t . . .) “Punk Goes Christmas” just should have said “No thanks!”, when offered the opportunity.
Lyrics intrigue me. So many of the first stanzas of the classics are burned into my brain because I learned them rote in grade school. I never questioned them, just sang them. As I got older and started to actually pay attention to the lyrics, I came on some surprising phrases. For instance, in the Wassail Song, I learned it really is a song about hungry neighbor children begging for food:
We are not daily beggars
Who beg from door to door,
But we are neighbor’s children
Whom you have seen before.
Love and joy come to you,
And to your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year.
We have a little purse
Made of ratching leather skin;
We want some of your small change
To line it well within.
Then there is the Christmas Song that Mel Torme wrote one summer in LA. Recorded by many artists, but perhaps best remembered for Nat King Cole’s version, this song perfectly captures my memories of growing up with cold and snow. Wearing layers and layers of clothes, having gloves and boots, muffs and scarves, and all matter of head gear were needed just to get from the house to the car. Christmas was replete with going to department store windows to see the fantastic displays, having a special meal in a restaurant festooned with decorations, making Christmas cookies, snow angels, and sipping hot chocolate after coming in from ice skating.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight
They know that Santa’s on his way
He’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother’s child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly
And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you
My favorite lyric, however, is Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as sung by Judy Garland. This song has a fascinating history, having originally been written for the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. It carries with it a bittersweet message to pay attention to what you have now, because there is no guarantee it will last. In the movie, Judy sings it to her little sister, played by Margaret O’Brien, then about seven years old.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now
When I was that age (7 or so), I liked the thought of a “merry little Christmas”. Now, with so many of my family having died and contemporaries experiencing physical and emotional challenges, the lines “someday soon we all with be together/ if the fates allow/ Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” speak to me.
On this Christmas Eve of 2017, with the world in a precarious place and our future uncertain, I will imagine Judy Garland singing to me. Reassuring me that next year all our troubles will be out of sight. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So, have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
Thanks for reading.