Anybody else been obsessed with Christmas music this year? Yes, I have been one of those people you like to complain about—the ones who play Christmas music before the Thanksgiving turkey is roasting in the oven. If you promise not to string me up with your holiday lights, I will admit that I sometimes listen to Christmas songs in July.
I think it’s something woven into my psyche and perhaps yours, too; we associate those carols with warm childhood memories of laughter, gift-giving, chocolate peanut butter balls, Chex party mix, hot chocolate and merry family gatherings. Somehow we feel comforted when Perry Como croons to us that “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” or when Bing Crosby’s honeyed voice sings “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Speaking of Bing, we tend to remember his secular holiday songs, but he also recorded many Christmas hymns. In the 1930’s, the head of Bing’s record company wanted him to record “Silent Night.” Bing at first refused because he did not want to earn money from sacred songs. He only yielded when the company agreed to give his profits to charities.
To this day, his version of “Silent Night” is the third best-selling musical single of all time. And no, that’s not just Christmas singles—that is ALL singles. “Silent Night” falls just below Elton John’s 1997 “Candle in the Wind” and just above Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never.”
Pretty good company, huh? And can you guess what is the number one best-selling single of all time? Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”
I get the warm fuzzies from Christmas favorites by the old crooners like Como, Crosby, Andy Williams, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. But I also enjoy some of the more modern crooners such as Michael Buble, especially when he sings “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.” And who says crooners have to be male? I love to hear the late Karen Carpenter croon her signature holiday song, “Merry Christmas, Darling.”
What’s the opposite of “warm fuzzies”? Whatever it is, that’s what I get when I hear certain Christmas songs that make me wish somebody would scrape their fingernails on a chalkboard to put me out of my misery. No offense to Taylor Swift, but I cannot abide her version of “Last Christmas.” The version by Wham is only slightly more tolerable. (Sadly, Wham’s lead singer, George Michael, actually passed away last Christmas.)
If I was a gambler, I’d bet that you readers have some least favorite Christmas songs, too. I’d love to hear which ones make you turn the FM dial from 99.5 to 99.1 or vice-versa. You Beatles fans, please forgive me, but I can barely tolerate Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas (Happy Xmas).” And if possible, I switch stations when The Pretenders sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—oh, that pitchy voice!
Speaking of that song, which was written for the 1944 movie “Meet Me in St. Louis,” did you know it originally had very depressing lyrics? The real version starts off this way: “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, It may be your last, Next year we may all be living in the past.”
Talk about a downer.
The movie’s star, Judy Garland, asked the songwriter Hugh Martin to adjust the lyrics to make it more cheerful. Although he originally said no, eventually Martin gave in, so that today we sing the lines, “…Let your heart be light, From now on our troubles will be out of sight.” In addition, Martin’s pessimistic “Faithful friends who were dear to us, Will be near to us no more” was transformed into “…gather near to us once more.”
When Frank Sinatra decided to record the song for his 1957 album, “A Jolly Christmas,” he told Martin that the original lyrics of “From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” weren’t exactly jolly. So the composer rewrote that line as “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough,” although some modern singers have reverted to the more depressing “muddle through” line.
One line that I do prefer from the original version of that song is “From now on we all will be together, If the Lord allows.” The producers decided to replace that Christian line with “…if the Fates allow.” I refuse to sing that revised line as I croon along with James Taylor or Bing Crosby; no pagan goddesses called “The Fates” control my destiny.
Another line I refuse to sing is in the song “Here Comes Santa Claus.” No offense to Gene Autry, Elvis and others who have made that song famous, but I cannot sing “So let’s give thanks to the Lord above that Santa Claus comes tonight!” Since Santa does not exist and certainly doesn’t visit anybody’s house at night, I find it disturbing to thank God for a lie.
To continue on the Santa tangent, did any of you feel troubled when you were a kid and heard “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”? For all of us kids who believed in Santa back on the old paths, it was horrifying that Mommy was fooling around with an old fat man while Daddy was sleeping. Until I grew up enough to realize that Santa probably really was Daddy putting the presents under the tree, that song bothered me greatly.
(Don’t worry—children old enough to read my column don’t believe in Santa anymore, so I’m not blowing Santa’s cover.)
Despite my complaints about a handful of Christmas songs, I think you will agree that most of the holiday tunes fill us with cheer. I love to sing “Feliz Navidad” (or as my little boy sings it, “Elise Nah-Di-Dah”) at the top of my lungs around the house. I get a little teary-eyed when I hear “The Christmas Shoes” or Kenny Loggins’ “Celebrate Me Home.” I thrill to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
And to all of you faithful readers, allow me to sing these lyrics before I go: “I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com