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Thursday, December 24, 2009

I hate secular Christmas music

Except for these two songs: Bing Crosby's version of White Christmas and Nat King Cole's version of The Christmas Song.

Today at noon, a bunch of carolers converged on the courthouse lawn to sing ... carols.

Colin Hanna, a conservative activist and former Chester County commissioner, organized this carol fest. In an interview earlier this week, Hanna told me that he distinguishes between Christmas carols and Christmas songs.

Carols, Hanna said, are religious. Songs, he said, are not.

The sing-along, he said, will involve "carols," not "songs."

Which was not entirely true. I went to the carol fest today and heard the carolers sing "Deck the Halls." The lyrics, as far as I can tell, have no religious content. The other ten pieces the carolers sang, however, were religious.

And, yes, I wrote a lengthy article about Hanna's carol fest - an article which will, when it appears tomorrow, give Christmas heartburn to many a Daily Local News reader. (Read it here.)

Anyway, back to the motivating force for this entry: I hate secular Christmas music. I used to like it. But its appeal has totally worn off. Childhood is long gone, and Christmas has revealed itself to me for what it truly is: a consumerist orgy. All season, other drivers, stressed out because our culture requires them to take on massive amounts of credit card debt this time of year so that they can buy their friends and relatives a bunch of crap that will end up in a closet, have been unwittingly trying to do me harm. All season, cheap studio recordings of Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree have been following me from store to store as I grudgingly participate in this stupid, stupid gift purchasing tradition of ours.

If it were up to me, we'd do away once and for all with the corpulent Norwegian who sleds across the sky bringing plastic to all the world's children. He is the root of our Christmas misery. My Jewish friends grew up without him, and they're doing just fine. In fact, at this very moment, all of them are happier than I am.

Yes, Christmas should involve a few overtly parent-given gifts for the kids; a nice family dinner; and attendance of a religious service that features an exceptional choir. (The Protestant revolution, I fear, has taken the virtuosity out of religious music. It's as if, to certain new denominations, getting truly good at an instrument (or at one's own voice) is an affront to God, rather than a means of praise.)

OK. This is too much. It's 6:20 p.m. on Christmas Eve. I'm not done work yet. And a coworker is playing the Chipmunks Christmas Album - the worst thing ever recorded.

How about Luciano Pavarotti singing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear? Why can't I hear that song? Why must it be the Chipmunks?

I'm off next week. See you in the New Year. And,

Merry Christmas!


'Twas Christmas in China

For those looking for a few Christmas laughs, I offer 'Twas Christmas in China, a long poem my friend Matt wrote two years ago while teaching English just south of Beijing.

The poem is, as far as I can tell, non-fiction. For Matt that year, Christmas appeared at first as if it would be nothing more than a prosaic Tuesday in a polluted Chinese city. The poem relates Matt's ultimately successful search for some sign of Christmas.

You can read the full poem here, but for those with less patience and time, I provide the following excerpts:

“How can there be no Christmas in this land?
Santa visits every child with presents in hand.”
But as the boy continued to think for a minute,
He became cold and bitter, a hardened cynic.

“It's this country, that's why!” he exclaimed with a hiss.
“It's China, it's Mao, it's those damned communists!”
And as he looked out his window again once more,
Twas but signs in Chinese, a Christmas eyesore . . .

* * *

For Christmas in China is no place to be,
With no Santa at all, no wonder they wish to flee.
And out on the street no one seemed to care
That the Christmas spirit was not in the air . . .

* * *

As the people walked by, “Merry Christmas” he cried.
But they just stopped briefly and stared with their eyes.
The traffic went by and their horns loudly beeped.
Taxi drivers swore at him as he blindly crossed the street.

But then up ahead what was this he did see?
A bright smiley yellow face, looking from a building with glee?
Then there was something that the boy did hear -- quietly at first and then with a blare:
“It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas” filled the polluted air.

He rubbed his eyes, and smiled merrily.
A super Wal-Mart, “But it truly can't be!”
And the sign proclaimed on a blue and gray wall,
“Everyday Low Prices, Low Prices For All!” . . .

* * *

Then he filled up his basket with holiday cheer,
As the sounds of the carols still filled his ear.
Merrily he thought, “Christmas in China, it was always here!”
And he took from the shelves several bottles of forty-cent beer.

A green plastic tree he now carried with him.
“No more will my apartment be barren and dim.”
And off to the checkout he merrily skipped
To prove to that Christmas had not been gypped . . .

* * *

And in the doorway there stood a man the boy knew.
“It can't be, it isn't, can it really be you?”
In his plump red suit and his fluffy white beard,
He grinned and winked at a boy's holiday cheer.

From Santa's eyes the boy did glimpse
A sign that even China could not stop Saint Nick.
And as Santa looked at the boy and this magic Christmas night's sight
He said, “Merry Chris-a-mas to all. And to all a good night.”


I have doubts, however, that Matt really went to China. I expressed them in this column.

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