Tuesday, December 24, 2013

So This Is Christmas: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Good Again

SEASON'S GREETINGS to one and all!
I've Dave-El and welcome to the (ahem!)...


Today, I want to take a bit of a tour around what Dave-El likes about Christmas. But this blog pulls no punches so I'll look at stuff that  bugs me. A lot! But it's Christmas so I'll (try to but given my track record it's not very likely) make it fun!

And we're keeping it clean today so be sure to watch our !@#$%ing language, OK?

The big thing for me at Christmas is the music. While I may complain (correction: I WILL complain) about the same songs at Christmas being played over and over (and over), there are certain hymns and choral anthems that really resonate for me, despite how many different times and versions I hear.

O Holy Night is I think one of the most beautiful Christmas hymns. It is deceptively simple to begin: "O holy night, the starts are brightly shining..." I start singing and I actually dare thing, "Yeah, I can do this." By the time I get to "Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angels' voices...", I'm thinking I'm ready to fall on my knees in total surrender.  O Holy Night should really be left to only the best singers and one of the best is Josh Groban. I guess citing Groban as a favorite singer is like saying "Kenny G is my favorite sax player"; Groban's version of this hymn is probably the most overplayed version but it deserves it. It's just that good, IMHO.

Still, when one is hearing the same arrangement of the same 5 songs over and over, some shaking up is appreciated.  The track by the Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlan of We Three Kings/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is a Christmas tune I don't mind hearing a lot. 

Outside of hymns, there are Christmas songs of a more secular nature. And one that I can't believe I'm going to call out as a favorite is All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey. Talk about being overplayed! What? You missed hearing the song? Just wait 15 minutes; it'll come around again. But here's the thing: when I first hear that "gong" sound effect at the start of the record, I do not feel a sense of dread of "oh no, here we go again". I'll actually tick the volume up a notch.  It's a very infectious record and it still sounds as great now as it did 15 minutes ago.

There are only so many times I can stand listening to I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas except for the version by the Drifters; that one make me feel good every single time.

There are certain novelty songs that I enjoy that I do not hear enough of (if at all) on the radio so thank goodness for the internet.

Sammy the Christmas Snake is a quick and quirky fun little tune that is wickedly subversive. The idea of a snake being a cute symbol of Christmas is just too funny.
I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas by Gayla Peevey is a song that is too cutesy and sweet to be on my list of favorites but dang it, I really do like this song. Just like Sammy the Christmas Snake, the absurdity of linking a hippopotamus to Christmas is just the sort of thing I like. 

 Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime by Jonathan Coulton is my absolute favorite Christmas song set in an oppressive society under the rule of robot overlords.

Merry Christmas From the Family by is a slice of redneck life at Christmas. Now, you may suspect from the witty banter of my writing that I'm some kind of urban sophisticate (or more likely you may suspect that my medication dosage needs to be increased). But I grew up in a small town in the southern United States and let me tell you, Merry Christmas From the Family is dead on.  Seriously, it's right out of my childhood. I also have a particular fondness for one specific lyric: "Cousin David knew just what went wrong...he threw the breakers and the lights came on".

Wrapping up this part on the music of Christmas I like, I want to take a look at a song I only discovered a few years ago, Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming. This is a Christmas hymn with a very classic feel and solidly defined voice parts that blend exquisitely in the right hands.  Click this link for a very beautiful rendition of Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming as sung by the Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter


Above is a photo I took on a rare Christmas snow at my home several years ago. I ran the photo through a water color filter. No snow for Christmas this year. Today, the weather where I am is grey and rainy. It was 70 degrees yesterday. Very much not Christmas weather. Yet think about this: how much of the world is NOT in a "Christmas weather" pattern? Pretty much only the top half of the northern hemisphere is likely to see any snow at Christmas. Yet images of snow permeates our pictures of Christmas.  Well, the weather for here in North Carolina is for temperatures back in the 40's so it will "feel" like Christmas. For the rest of you in the other 80% of the world...well, whatever works for you.


Since we talked about songs I like, let's flip that to the other side and look at songs I'm less fond of, otherwise known as...

OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit.

Having a Wonderful Christmas Time
by Paul McCartney

No, I'm not.

This excessively perky treacle fest gets played to death and I can't be the only one who finds this song excessively annoying. If a songwriter can craft a decent listenable arrangement of this song, I will work to establish a minor religion in your name. 

Carol of the Bells 
Most versions sound like the singers are angry at the bells! Very, very angry! 
Happy Holidays
by the...I don't know, I call 'em the Generic White People Chorus
I can't help myself: every time I hear this song, my mind hears "Happy Hollandaise!"

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra song with the creepy children of the corn chanting. If you need to make a human sacrifice to a demon lord at Christmas time, this song is perfect.  

That damn song about the shoes! Kid, your mom's DYING! This is NOT the type to explore your shoe fetish. And what really (REALLY!) bugs me are all the religious folks who think this is a lovely song. Guys, if you think Jesus is checking for shoes when you die, that does not speak well of your grasp of the theological concepts of the afterlife.

So This Is Christmas (War is Over)
by John Lennon
Wow, another former Beatle on the list? But if Paul's Yuletide contribution is too sweet, John's holiday tune is in a whole other direction. I mean, "Another year older, what have you done?" Well, I...er, I mean, I did...that is, I...I...SOB! I've wasted my whole life! WASTED IT!"

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
by...well, by dang near everybody
Kids, your mom's playing tonsil hockey with that nice fat fellow in the red suit who brings you presents. You see, what's really happening here is...is....
Kids, work it out in therapy later.

Having a Wonderful Christmas Time by....oops! I've already mentioned that one. OK, I'll mention it again: It's THAT annoying. 

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
by Bruce Springsteen
OK, how can a fun, happy Christmas tune by the Boss himself become so annoying? Maybe it just got old after hearing it 1,457,328 times! When I hear those opening bells, my heart sinks.
Don't They Know Its Christmas?
OK, let me be honest: This song has a nice melody and it's for a good cause. But seriously, some of those lyrics...brrrr! "Thank God it's them instead of you"? Really? I didn't realize this was a Hunger Games competition. "You're starving? Yay, I win!"

You know this list could keep going on and on (I mean, I haven't even gotten to Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer) but Christmas is a time of good cheer so let's move on to other things. 

I will admit that my perspective on Christmas is not as positive as I wish. There are a lot of things that sometimes make obtaining that holiday spirit so elusive. But I think that the thing wears my on my own enthusiasm for the season is the sheer ubiquitous nature of it all.

I find it fascinating that there are those who declare that there is a "War Against Christmas". Well, it looks like to me that if Christmas is in a war, Christmas is winning. But at what cost? How can Christmas be special if it's around so long? Christmas ads start earlier and earlier. When I was kid, the day after Thanksgiving was the day after Thanksgiving. Somewhere along the line it became Black Friday and getting the best deals became a contact sport. And now it's bleeding backward with stores opening on Thanksgiving day. Inevitably, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season will be July 4th.

Poetry is not my strong suit (readers of this blog are still trying to figure out what my strong suit is) but I felt compelled to write this:

So when did I start hating Christmas, to myself I ask?
Why is Christmas to me less a joy, more of a task?
I do not hate Christmas, on that I must be clear!
Christmas is a beautiful time, full of good cheer!
I love all the lights, how they twinkle and glow,
The stars in the night above, the Christmas lights below.
And the glow not just of lights but from the warmth inside
When we embrace each other and let go of our pride.
But I admit that I find myself so hard and so brittle
As the true meaning of Christmas means so little.
Buy this! Buy that! There's stuff to get, stuff to be gotten!
We must buy more things and stuff full every stocking!
So many have so much and yet we want more.
Christmas is real; I can buy it at the store.
Christmas is a commodity, I can find it on sale.
But I do not want more things to which I can avail.
Buy stuff now! is the message we hear many months prior
When the music starts early and of which I now tire.
Is Christmas too big? Does it need to be smaller?
The Christmas tree does not need to be taller.
A blanket of noise and glitter, with many things to sell?
I just need your hand to grasp and know that all is well.
Christmas is joy and light, not a burden we bear.
Christmas is a special happiness you can feel in the air.
Instead of what we can get, think of what we can lose;
Cast off darkness, despair & hate if we choose.
I don't hate Christmas, not the joyful, hopeful season.
Just look past the packages and tags,remember the reason
As light conquers darkness from the heavens above.
The true gifts of Christmas come from love.

Well, that's that for this Christmas post.
Whatever your place or circumstance, even if you do not celebrate Christmas, I wish you all the peace and joy of the season.

Merry Christmas and in the New Year, more than ever, be good to one another.


Well, It's Monday Again.

Well, it's Monday again.  It keeps happening.  This weekend, I think I finally moved beyond my sinus infection and/or tick bite. My ...