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Coyote Musings
Coyote handsome
his coat the same brown
as the dust from which he rises


What is the sound of one hand slapping Schroedinger's cat?


The Quantum Duck goes "quark, quark."

September 2010
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Missing Left Sock Beast [userpic]
Holidailies, day 13: Finding Truth in Pop Holiday Songs

Not on the subject of the post at all, but just because I feel like sharing this random moment from my life: Yesterday I could not decide what I wanted for dinner. So, I whipped up a batch of peanut butter cookie dough, which I promptly proceeded not to cook. So it's sitting in my refrigerator, in a glass bowl, covered with Saran Wrap, waiting for me to decide if I'm going to bake cookes when I get home or not.

But about Pop Holiday Songs. Well, first of all, I suppose we need to define our terms. "Pop" in this context generally means "popular," and "holiday songs" would be songs about the holiday. I think there are a number of hymns that could be considered Popular Songs about the Holiday(s), but I also think that I will rule out any song that is liable to be found in a hymnal.* Lots and lots of people have spent time talking about the truth in seasonal hymns. Also, and a bit unfortunately, I am not familiar with any "pop" holiday songs that aren't in the Western European Christian Tradition, so the discussion will be limited to songs from that perspective.

Also, although I am going to talking about truth in the sense of "things that are true," I don't necessarily believe there is such a thing as capital-T "Truth" for everyone, so what I find in these songs may or may not be true for everyone. Keep in mind, though, that I also agree with the statement that "Things need not have happened to be true."

So. Before I get into more general comments about Holiday Songs, let's take everyone's least-favorite song that shows up in heavy rotation (and thus could be called "popular") at this time of year: Grandma got Run Over by a Reindeer.

I love the sound of groans in the morning. Sounds like...victory.

Anyway - I think there are some truths that come out of this particular song. Take, for example, the truth that it is generally easier to accept the reality of something for which one has evidence: "You can say there's no such thing as Santa/but as for me and Grandpa, we believe" after
... they found her Christmas mornin'
At the scene of the attack
There were hoofprints on her forehead
And incriminating Claus marks on her back

Of course "Claus marks" is meant as a joke, as is Grandpa's grieving by "...watchin' football/Drinkin' beer and playin' cards with cousin Belle." The whole song is supposed to be humorous. But in Grandpa's behavior after Grandma's death, there is another truth: everyone grieves differently. We, the listener, are supposed to be appalled or amused by Grandpa's behavior, but who's to say Grandpa's behavior is wrong? Maybe it's the only way he knows how to deal. After all, consider that the narrator's reaction to Grandma's untimely death is to write the song under discussion.

If it weren't for the fact that I'm just not in the mood to get the damn thing stuck in my head, I'd go check out the lyrics to Paul McCartney's Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime and see what I could pull out of it.

So, as Mulder would say, the truth is out there. There's something else I find even more fascinating about Christmas songs - they all assume a cold, generally snowy, winter. I could go on and on with a list: Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, Jingle Bells...why is this? Surely there have been songwriters who have lived in areas where it doesn't snow for Christmas. And some of these songs (such as Jingle Bells) don't really seem to have anything to do with the holidays at all. I don't recall any mention of Christmas or Hanukka in Jingle Bells (and in fact may have just stumbled on the statement that it was originally written for Thanksgiving). But songs that are played during the holiday season tend to share certain characteristics: snow, evergreens, getting together to party with friends, candles, light, the old traditional symbols of the winter season for most religions (as I understand it).

A lot of the songs mention or imply magic, though, or the joys of the imagination ("In the meadow we can build a snowman/then pretend that he's a circus clown/we'll have lots of fun with Mr. Snowman/until the other kiddies knock him down"). And there's a truth, I think, that during the time of short days and long winter nights we reach into ourselves for entertainment or cuddle up with each other - another theme that shows up repeatedly in these songs - and tell ourselves new stories or the old familiar ones.

There is also the truth that a lot of people are alone and hurting at this time of year, which shows up in a lot of holiday songs (I'll be Home for Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Blue Christmas, the Jethro Tull song that ashenseraph recently introduced me to Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow - like the list of songs that insist Christmastime (or the Holidays) is or should be snowy and cold, I suspect that the list of Christmas songs that include a sad or tragic message, or a reminder of lonliness, could go on for a while (also thanks to ashenseraph, I see that Entertainment Weekly has A list of 100 depressing Christmas songs.

They may be inane. They may cause your blood pressure to rise if you listen to close or hear them too often.** But there is truth to be found in Songs only Dragged Out after December 1st. Just like there is truth to be found everywhere.

*Singing the Living Tradition, the UU hymnal, doesn't count for purposes of this discussion.
**Truefax: My mother, while listening to "Winter Wonderland" and talking to me on the phone while we cleaned our bathrooms this weekend, suddenly took offense at the idea that Parson Brown wanders the countryside asking people "Are you married?"