Monday, December 22, 2008
The Best Christmas Song That Is Not Even A Christmas Song But Which I Am Just Going To Declare, Unilaterally, IS In Fact A Christmas Song (2008)
What makes one "tradition" better than the other at Christmas? What makes one thing Christmas-Y and another not, aside from the inclusion of the word "Christmas" in it?
Yes, think about that for a while, and then think about it some more. Why are some things deemed to be "Christmas-Y" and some things are not. The only criteria I can think of, the only objective criteria that can possibly separate something that is "Christmas-Y" from something that is not "Christmas-Y" is the inclusion of, or mention of, the word "Christmas." Because everything else we've come to associate with Christmas is associated with Christmas for the sole reason that we associate those things with Christmas.
That is, chestnuts roasting on an open fire are Christmas-y because we've made them be so. There's nothing that I know of that says that chestnuts, or fires, or roasting, is particularly associated with Christmas, that we can only have chestnuts in December or that people don't light fires other times of the year. But they've become associated with Christmas because they were in a Christmas song, so now, if you go up to someone in July and they say "Hey, what're you doing tonight?" and you say "I'm gonna roast some chestnuts on an open fire" they'll give you the hairy eyeball.
Even the most cherished symbols of Christmas ("most cherished" outside of religious symbols, which I'll get to in a moment) really have nothing to do with "Christmas" other than the fact that they've been around Christmas a lot and so Christmas has rubbed off on them. I pointed out the other day that Frosty The Snowman really had no Christmas association whatsoever when it came out. There's another song that's considered a "Christmas song" -- it's in my "Christmas carols" sheet music book for piano, and it's played all the time this time of year -- but it has nothing to do with Christmas at all. It's the song "Let It Snow!"
Here's a video version of that song that begins with Christmas imagery. Play it, and listen to the lyrics, and ask yourself,
Why is that a Christmas song? Couldn't that song take place, at least up North, anytime between November 1 and about March 15? Last year, in Wisconsin, we got something like 60 inches of snow in February. That song would have fit in perfectly. And, it's not even about a Christmas party. It's about a date, a date the guy doesn't want to end because he likes the girl, so he's hoping that it keeps snowing and he's trying to convince her that it's better to stay by his place and look at some etchings, eat popcorn (how Christmas-Y!) or whatever rather than go home.
So if that is a Christmas song, why isn't this:
Also a Christmas song? Isn't "Baby, It's Cold Outside" exactly the same idea as "Let It Snow!"? Shouldn't both, or neither, be a Christmas song?
or is "Baby, It's Cold Outside" now a Christmas song? Because of this?
I started thinking about things like this a long time ago, when I was helping Mom decorate her Christmas tree and I put in my BoDeans' album to listen to while I did that. Mom complained that the music wasn't very "Christmas-y", but isn't "Still The Night" just as nice of a song as "Let It Snow!", and if "Still the Night" was featured in a Christmas movie, if "Still The Night" was featured, say, in The Twelve Days of Christmas playing over the part where Brandon goes to sleep while waiting for Alyson to get home from her third shift job, and he stares at the Christmas tree while falling asleep to that song, would people then start to treat it like a Christmas song?
Nice song, isn't it? And maybe someday, it'll be a Christmas tradition. Like, you know, the Christmas tree, which people think is a "Christmas Tree" even though it wasn't always. According to Christmas-Tree.com, which should know, the Christmas tree wasn't a "Christmas Tree" until St. Boniface got mad at people worshipping an oak tree, so he cut the offending tree down and in the place of that tree, a fir tree grew in the oak tree's place. That took place 1,000 years ago -- or roughly 1,000 years after the birth of the Christ whose mass the tree celebrates. Fir trees weren't generally used for Christmas trees for another 600 years (which just goes to show how fast society is speeding up. The length of time it took for people to adopt as a symbol of this holiday a tree that grew miraculously? 600 years. Length of time for people to adopt as a symbol of this holiday a snowman who grew miraculously? About a month.)
So Christmas, as a thing, has been around for 2,008 years or so now. Christmas trees as a thing have been around for 408 of that -- or about 20%. And they didn't start as symbols of Christmas; evergreen trees have been symbols going back to the Egyptians. We only adopted the evergreen as a symbol of Christmas because it stays green in the winter; if we all had always lived in tropical climates, we'd either have no trees at Christmas at all, or we'd decorate palm trees.
So at Christmas, we put on songs about dating and snowmen, and decorate a tree that the Egyptians used to put in their house... and call that Christmas-y, doing so because those things have all been associated with Christmas over time. Stockings, egg nog (which began life as a popular drink for all occasions, and has a variety of recipes), all the trappings of the Christmas season have just been absorbed by Christmas over time as people decide two things: (1) I like this, and (2) I'm going to do it during the holidays. Then other people think that, and a few years down the road, it's a holiday tradition.
Like in our own house, where watching a movie on Christmas Eve has become a holiday tradition. And not just any movie. We watch scary movies. For some reason. We have, over the past several years, watched Godzilla, Black Christmas, Halloween (appropriate, right?) and more on Christmas Eve, getting back from our holiday parties and settling down with our other holiday traditions -- egg nog and the tree and all -- and watching something that most people would consider completely inappropriate for "Christmas Eve."
That tradition began about 10 years ago, when we decided to just spend Christmas Eve with our own little family, then the three kids and I and Sweetie. We went sledding, we drank hot chocolate, we had a nice dinner, and then, to wind down the night, we decided to watch a movie. So we asked the kids which movie they'd want to watch, thinking they'd pick a comedy or some Christmas movie. But they unanimously voted for "Godzilla," so we watched that. That's happened each year since then -- the top vote getter is watched on Christmas Eve, and the top vote getter is something that most people would say "That's horrible! You shouldn't watch that on a holiday about the birth of Jesus and/or family togetherness (or whatever it is Christmas is about in your household/religion/TV special)."
But why not?
Why can't watching a scary movie be a Christmas tradition? Why does it have to be hot chocolate and "Love, Actually" (which, by the way, pointed out how things become Christmas-y -- by putting the word "Christmas" in them). If burning chestnuts and trying to get your date to stay overnight is Christmas-y, why isn't Godzilla?
Because, remember, Christmas wasn't originally Christmas-y. It's been said before, but it bears repeating: Christmas was arbitrarily set on December 25. "Christmas" as a religious celebration could just as easily have been set on August 22 (which one site says is the day Jesus was born) to September (according to another site) to June 17, per one astronomer.
So, to sum up, Christmas is considered Christmas-y because we say so.
We've taken, over the years, all these things that we loved (egg nog) and all these things that seem sort of wintery (Let It Snow!) and all these things that the Romans did and so we didn't want to stand out as Christians lest we be persecuted (hang holly on the door) and some things that just seemed kind of neat (Christmas trees) and some things that sound neat but in reality would really probably not be very good at all (have you ever eaten a chestnut, roasted or not?) and we've lumped them all together and said:
And if you're like me, then you look at that big Katamari of Christmas and say Well, there's room for a bit more, which is why I'm going to add to Christmas, to start making things a little more Christmas-y, to give new things to the holiday and make it more fun for everyone, by naming the first The Best Christmas Song That Is Not Even A Christmas Song But Which I Am Just Going To Declare, Unilaterally, IS In Fact A Christmas Song (2008). I am going to declare that this song is a Christmas song, and it will be played as a Christmas song by me, and by anyone who truly believes in the true spirit of Christmas, hereafter.
The song is "Movin' On Up," by Primal Scream:
And it is the First The Best Christmas Song That Is Not Even A Christmas Song But Which I Am Just Going To Declare, Unilaterally, IS In Fact A Christmas Song (2008) because it is happy and uplifting and vaguely symbolic/religious sounding but not in a way that would offend anyone, and because in its fun bouncy goodness it captures, for me, that true spirit of Christmas, the true spirit of Christmas being this:
Christmas is the celebration of that which brings out the best in us.
And you, reading this, know that I've hit it dead on, there: That is the true spirit of Christmas. If you are a Christian, then Christmas is a celebration of Jesus as the Savior of the World. Doesn't that bring out the best in you? If you are not Christian, or not consciously or overtly so, then Christmas is still about what's the best in you: it's some of Jesus, and also some of getting together with friends and family, and also some of taking the things we like, the food and drink and treats and songs, and singing them and eating them and drinking them, and also some of giving presents to others to show how much we love them, and also some of dreaming of the kind of magic that can make snowmen come to life and reindeer fly, and also some of dreaming of a man who can make it around the world in a single night and does so to reward those who have been good, and also some of looking out at a peaceful snowscape with stars shining above it, and some of all the other beautiful sights and sounds and scents of Christmas, all of which is the world, and us, as we wish it could be: the best possible people in the best possible world.
Because of that, there's always a little more room in Christmas for a little more Christmas. After all, it's gone from a religious celebration to a celebration of family and togetherness to a period of time in which we strive to exhibit goodwill to others and show a little generosity, to a mass marketing phenomenon that stretches for more than a month and self-perpetuates.
If Christmas can be all of that, can't it be a little more for all of us? I think so. I think that Christmas can take it all in, can be all of those things and more, all of those things that make us happy because they are the best part of us: rewarding good, taking some time to sit and watch the snow fall, visiting with family and friends, saving people, helping others...