- Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 17:52
- Published on Wednesday, 10 December 2008 17:52
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There are several radio stations in our area that start playing Christmas music, non-stop, immediately after Thanksgiving.
There is also even one station that for some bizarre reason offers a day of Christmas music in July. Why? I have no idea, but I always tune in. That’s because, no matter what time of year it is, I enjoy Christmas music. It’s cheerful, it’s moving, it’s festive, and for many of us, it has a deep and abiding meaning.
However, I think there must be an unwritten rule someplace, maybe it’s an FCC thing, that you can only listen to Christmas music, two or three weeks before Christmas, and then immediately after the holiday it has to disappear. So, like any junkie, at this time of year, I try to get in as much as I can, while I can.
My favorites are what most people would consider the traditional carols. “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” a carol which is mentioned in Charles Dickens’ famous story “A Christmas Carol” is my number one pick and I can listen to it over and over. If I close my eyes, I am at Trafalgar Square, a very long time ago, on a snowy Christmas Eve. If it is sung by a chorus, with a full orchestral accompaniment, then all the better. That just gives it a little majesty.
“Silent Night” is another favorite, written in 1818, with the German title “Stille Nacht.” On Christmas Eve 1914, during the First World War, it was the song the Allied soldiers heard from the other side of “no man’s land” being sung in German. It didn’t take long before they realized it was one of their favorite Christmas carols too. Its simple beauty pierced night and led to what has become known as the “Christmas Truce.” This short cessation in the fighting began with a Christmas carol.
I also tend to like the carols that offer a view of the lighter side of Christmas. “Jingle Bells,” which I think I first sang with the rest of my class in the first grade at Belvedere Elementary School, is one carol I think I know all the words to.
And yes, I can almost, but not quite, do the same for “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” Rudolph might have started out as an advertising gimmick for Montgomery Wards, but his story, and his TV special, airing every Christmas since 1964 has made this song one of my favorites.
There are some Christmas songs, that even I, Christmas music aficionado that I am, would prefer go away. Never to be sung or played anywhere ever again. It’s not a long list. While it was cute when it was first released several years ago, I would be very pleased if I never, ever, heard “Grandma got run over by a Reindeer” again. If it could somehow be purged from human memory, that would be good thing too.
The same goes for Alvin and the Chipmunks and their Christmas songs. For some inexplicable reason, they always seem to slip into radio station play lists.
There is another genre of Christmas music, not too often captured, certainly not sharing radio air time with Rudolph, that involves one of my favorite instruments, the harp. In this case it is a unique and relatively little known smaller version of the instrument known as the Clarsach. The Clarsach is Scottish, actually, it’s more accurately described as Celtic, and there is a recent release of its music, by a former resident of the Northern Neck, Jo Morrison. Her “Christmas Gifts” CD, perhaps because it allows me to “time travel” a bit, to when I lived in Scotland, is one of my favorites.
Perhaps one of the most famous Christmas carols, at least here in America, written by Irving Berlin and originally sung by Bing Crosby is “White Christmas.” In 1954, the song led to a movie with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby by the same name.
However, by itself, this one song had a remarkable ability, even for people who grew up in places where it never snowed at Christmas time, to bring back memories. The Captain aboard my Dad’s ship in World War II who was fond of having music played aboard ship, specifically directed that this song not be played. He liked it, but he also noticed that it made some of his most seasoned sailors cry when they heard it.
That, in a way, probably sums up why I find the Songs of the Season, both religious and secular, so compelling. They tell a story, warm the heart, and sometimes, in a few stanzas bring back some warm and wonderful memories.