Woohoo! We’ve been given the green light — Christmas is definitely on! And whilst it may or may not be a little different this year, as it’s now December we can officially start playing those songs that get us in the red and tinsel frame of mind. Of course, to lighten the mood, some of us had sneaked in one or two rounds of Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” by mid-November and maybe even quite a few dancing bouts to Sia’s “Snowman” after watching all that waltzing on Strictly. But now is the time to go for glory.
Of course, most of the time, as we sing and shake a leg to them, we’re a little in the dark as to how the songs that say “Christmas” to us came into being and sometimes what they are even about. For instance, did you know that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, a story of a scrappy young reindeer who felt like an outcast before he ended up saving Christmas, was autobiographical? The song was written by Robert L. May, who skipped grades at school, was therefore younger than his classmates and felt he didn’t belong. He wrote about himself in the guise of Rodolph and it’s a victory song for those on the fringe. Or, that the “The 12 Days of Christmas” was created sometime between 1558 and 1829 when Catholics were banned from practising their faith in England? Each verse has a code word for a religious element —on the first day of Christmas, “my true love gave to me” refers to God, the “partridge in a pear” tree is code for Jesus on the cross.
Most Christmas songs are good for us. The very word “carol” means dance or a song of joy and praise, and thousands of years ago in Europe, carols were written and sung during all four seasons, which, given the year we’ve had, doesn’t seem a bad idea. “Silent Night “was written in 1818 to sooth a congregation that had suffered famine, war and volcanic eruptions, and mid-pandemic we could all use some similar comfort and joy. Of course, Christmas songs are not all intense with hidden solemn meaning, sometimes they’re tongue in cheek about getting what you want and if no one gets hurt, what’s wrong with that? The composers of “Let it Snow” wrote their plea in the middle of a July heatwave in Hollywood and what they were asking for was something akin to air conditioning. All Mariah wants for Christmas of course is you…
My point is that, love them or loath them, Christmas songs lift the spirits for adults and children alike and are a good way of starting memories about Christmas from a very young age. Just a few bars from a favourite tune will trigger happy responses about fun, family and friends until we’re old and grey. I’m betting that “I’m a dancing Christmas Tree” is one even the youngest of our nursery community will relish and it is sweet enough to last all season through (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlr4uXAz-JM). My own favourite makes no mention of jingle bells nor even Christmas directly. “Goodbye England Covered in Snow”, by Laura Marling, is a beautiful song about life, family and home with a setting of snow and love for a young child, all of which seem so right for this precious, Lockdown Christmas. If you don’t know it, Happy Christmas, it’s my gift to you! Fingers crossed John Lewis never uses it.