Christmas Music, Poems & Grammar


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The spirit of Christmas stretches beyond religious borders, and at the end of the day drapes itself in hopes of peace and goodwill. It is certainly a season designed for children, the celebration of a man when he was a child’s contemporary, a small babe reliant on the kindness of strangers.

And it is often through the eyes of child that adults can regain, if only fleetingly, that innocence we surrender to adult responsibilities. Perhaps Anne Porter’s Noël captures that understanding best.

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet’s message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.

The human species feeds on hope, and while mostly celebrated in an air of festivity, the Christmas spirit also feeds hope to those who’s year may have been less than fortunate.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the author of “Hiawatha” and “Paul Revere’s Ride” wrote the poem Christmas Bells not long after his wife died and as his son suffered severe wounds fighting for the Union in the Civil War. For many Americans with family & friends fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the words still ring true.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Music also plays a special role in reflecting the sense of hope that the Christmas season ushers in. The most popular of these would be Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas which was made famous by Judy Garland.

Her original version that people became familiar with appeared in Meet Me in St Louis, and chronicled the story of a family having to move from their home, family and friends.

It’s a melancholy song, but it became immensely popular with American troops during WWII since it could easily reflect the sentiment of a soldier far from home.

The song has been interpreted by dozens of artists since then, some reflecting on families separated geographically, some by death, but always with the same understanding that, “someday soon we all will be together.”

One of the most popular of Christmas songs was recorded relatively recently by the Pogues back in 1987, Fairytale of New York.

The traditional arrangement by the rock band has made it popular with generations both young and old, although the lyrics did create a bit of controversy as not being politically correct.

The song tells the story of a couple down on their luck, and the verses where they trade insults was originally considered inappropriate for public airwaves. Protests arguing that any insult is by nature politically incorrect restored the unedited version to broadcast radio and television.

In contrast to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Fairytale of New York alternates between a sentimental melody and a triumphant reprisal….and yes, that’s Matt Dillon playing the cop.

By now, the 1977 recording of Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing Little Drmmer Boy/Peace on Earth has become a Christmas classic. The talent of the two singers played a huge role in it’s success, but also the idea of two extremely different personas coming together to perform the duet also contributed to it’s immense popularity.

Bing Crosby, the crooner of the WWII generation, and David Bowie, the androgynous subversive of the 1970’s underground lifestyle, did not seem a likely pair.

Bowie was a fan of Bing Crosby’s and appeared for the recording without mascara or fingernail polish. Bing sang the traditional Little Drummer Boy lyrics which were written in 1957, and Bowie sang Peace on Earth which was quickly written since his voice did not lend itself to the deep tones of The Little Drummer Boy.

Christmas Trivia: Many people bemoan the lack of religiosity in today’s Christmas celebration, and sometimes express a special disdain for the ever increasing use of “Xmas” in word and speech. But be of good cheer, in Greek, the letter  (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the Middle Ages.