Happy Holidays to all! Following are 10 Holiday Musical Bubbles, or assumptions, worth reexamining. The intent is not to decrease anyone’s holiday cheer, rather to simply make us aware of origins, intents, or errant assumptions about the holidays that we receive through music. Plus, there are some fun facts to share at holiday parties!
Holiday Bubble Burst #1: The lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” are somewhat disturbing. While written by Frank Loesser and premiered with his wife at a holiday party, today’s sensitivity towards date rape makes the song quite troubling today.
Holiday Bubble burst #2: Frank Sinatra made “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” into a hit by slightly changing the words and recasting it as a positive, nostalgic tune. But the original version from the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis” is FAR from a happy holiday song. In fact, it’s a real tear-jerker. Hear the song in the context of the original scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yudgy30Dd68
Holiday Bubble Burst #3: “Frolic and Play the Eskimo Way” may be a clever, catchy lyric, but it is also outdated and fairly offensive when you think about it. The lyricist of Winter Wonderland was a product of his era, and certainly was evoking greeting card images of rosy-cheeked happy natives in fur coats playing on sleds, having snowball fights, cuddling polar bears, etc. But, REALLY? We’ve changed other song lyrics (cough, coughStephenFoster…) because they are good songs that need updating for a variety of reasons. That line is a holdover from the “noble savage” way of looking at native peoples. Easy fix: “Frolic and play, on this snowy day….Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” Or, go realistic if you really think that true life on the frozen tundra was being depicted….”Freezing to death, as bears maul my flesh….”
Holiday Bubble Burst #4: Some of the most popular and lasting songs never mention Christmas or the holiday season in their lyrics: Jingle Bells, Let It Snow, Toyland, Frosty the Snowman, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Sleigh Ride, and the aforementioned Baby, It’s Cold Outside and Winter Wonderland. Some of them were not even written for the December holidays.
Holiday Bubble Burst #5: Pachelbel’s Canon is NOT a Christmas tune, even if the Trans Siberian Orchestra is your favorite seasonal group.
Holiday Bubble Burst #6: Several holiday standards actually began life as songs of protest, or at least as a commentary on the actions of societies or governments. These include: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear (Mexican-American War),” “Do You Hear What I Hear? (Cuban Missile Crisis)”, “Happy Xmas (The War is Over)” (Vietnam War). Existing songs, such as “Go Tell It On the Mountain”, were co-opted to support non-Christmas-specific causes, such as Civil Rights Movement. My favorite in this category is the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” not originally intended for Christmas at all, but nonetheless has become a Christmas anthem expressing the sentiment of that song’s title.
Holiday Bubble Burst #7: The fifth gift in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” doesn’t mean gold rings as in jewelry. Rather, it refers a gift of five ring-necked pheasants. Also, the “four calling birds,” was originally “four colly birds.” A colly bird is an archaic term for a blackbird.
Holiday Bubble Burst #8: Though now a worldwide Christmastime phenomenon, Handel’s Messiah was originally premiered April of 1742. Although seen as a quintessentially British expression, we should remember that the work was premiered in Dublin, Ireland and composed by a German transplant, only coming to England due to the House of Hannover monarchy inheriting the throne.
Holiday Bubble Burst #9: Many, if not most, of the images we assume from religious Christmas tunes are creative fictions. Some, even with biblical precedents, simply could not have happened in December. Case in point, if the Jews were truly good tenders of livestock, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, they would not have been foolish enough to have their flocks out in the fields in the cold of December. It is well known that the December date for Christmas was chosen by Pope Julius I, who desired it to coincide and perhaps replace the already established Roman traditions of the cult of Mithras and Saturnalia celebrations. Over the centuries, the traditions of the northern climes have crept into the songs and images of the traditional Christmas story, causing people to believe a reality of lifestyle and weather patterns in the Holy Land that simply were not true. And don’t get me started on the now blind acceptance to the adoption of Yule/Celtic and other pagan traditions. Pass the eggnog while I sit on the Yule Log under the Christmas tree!
Holiday Bubble Burst #10: Like many songs, the melody for Deck the Halls is found in a much earlier version, in this case, from a Welsh New Year’s Carol. The original words were bear no resemblance to the words we know today. In fact, it appears to be more fitting for a Valentine’s Day song!
Oh! how soft my fair one’s bosom,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
Oh! how sweet the grove in blossom,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la:
Oh! how blessed are the blisses,
Words of love, and mutual kisses,
fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la
May your season be filled with music, friends, family and fun facts!
Copyright, 2015. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat