In the spirit of the holiday I thought I would keep things light. Yesterday’s editorial in my local newspaper offers up the perfect commentary for this purpose. It’s both humorous and somewhat nostalgic. Merry Christmas to all of you.
Our editorialist was trapped in a moving automobile last weekend as his wife played a succession of contemporary “Christmas albums” on the car stereo. He said it was enough to make him want to burn his Santa Claus suit.
We know what he means. We are big fans of Christmas music — the traditional carols and the majestic oratorios — but we cannot for the life of us figure out why anyone would want to listen to a rapper spit out the words to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” or endure the efforts of an aging crooner as he puts a Las Vegas spin on “The Little Drummer Boy.”
We blame the late Gene Autry for all this. It was Autry, a singing movie cowboy by trade, who recorded “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in 1949, and we can’t remember a Christmas since then that our ears haven’t been assaulted by some gimmicky holiday song or another, or by an album of “Christmas favorites” butchered by some second-rate singer who shouldn’t be allowed to perform “O, Holy Night” in the shower, let alone in a recording studio.
(Not the least of the crimes Autry is answerable for is the one of insinuating this intruder, Rudolph, into the true, authentic team of Santa Claus’ reindeer as recorded by Clement C. Moore in his classic poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. Children today — even some adults! — labor under the false impression that the bulbous-nosed pretender was an actual colleague of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.)
And “Rudolph” is not even the worst of the contemporary Christmas songs. Year after year, composers seem to vie to see who can write the silliest, most insipid lyrics to sell to the gullible holiday trade. We have mothers kissing Santa Claus; we have grandmothers getting run over by reindeer; we have toothless waifs wishing for incisors in their stockings. We rock around the Christmas tree and do the “Jingle-Bell Rock.”
In the spirit of the season, we want to be charitable about this. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is a fine Christmas song, possessed of a lovely melody and beautiful lyrics that evoke memories of Christmases past.
And those of us of a certain age will likely shed a tear each time we hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” They were written in the darkest days of World War II, and their evocations of soldiers pining for their families back home will have meaning as long as that Greatest Generation lives.
But we could live the rest of our lives happily without hearing Alvin the chipmunk place another order for a hula hoop.
Generally speaking, and with the aforementioned exceptions notably excepted, we say that anyone who has written a “Christmas song” after about 1945 deserves a lump of coal in his stocking, and anyone who sings one of them on a contemporary “Christmas album” is no better than a humbug.
(Now that we think of it, we also issue a special dispensation to “Deck Us All with Boston Charlie,” the great Walt Kelly’s comic-strip carol, as sung by Pogo ’Possum and all his Okefenokee Swamp pals. Now that’s a Christmas song for the ages!)