Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Do You Know Santa Claus?

It's been a while, hasn't it?

Computer problems. Other problems. Life sometimes intervenes to inhibit blogging though it really should be the other way around.

In any case, I have survived another Christmas Season. The enforced "joy" of this "most wonderful time of the year" is a little hard to take even when you have some reasons to be joyful. Christmas music is one of the harder things to take. It is ubiquitous. It is incessant. It is worse than elevator music in that many of the tunes are vicious ear-worms that eat away at your brain. Now, please don't misunderstand. I like some Christmas music. The minor key O, Little Town of Bethlehem, has an ominousness that makes it stand out amongst carols. My personal favorite is Good King Wenceslaus with its message of decency and generosity:

So, you Christian men be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Which of you would bless the poor,
Shall himself find blessing.

I'm also partial to God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.

Among Christmas songs, there are 3 from the years of World War II that are special favorites. All speak of longing for something past and only tentatively possible in the future. The best known is, of course, Irving Berlin's White Christmas. In it the quiet, white world under its glistening blanket of snow is a dream of the past as it must have been for a lot of servicemen when it was written. Similarly, I'll Be Home For Christmas is filled with the ache of longing. Yet I find the most moving to be Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.

The song was introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis. The song originates in 1943 and was so depressing that Garland demanded revisions. According to the Wikipedia entry, the song opened thus:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
It may be your last.
Next year we all may be living in the past.

and continued:

Faithful friends who were dear to us,
Will be near to us,
No more.

While those thoughts certainly were in the minds of many a person as the fourth year of war and second since America's entry into it concluded, they don't represent anything up-lifting. Hugh Martin, at Garland's urging changed the lyrics to a form only partially familiar today.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart be light.
'Til next year our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Make the Yuletide gay.
'Til next year our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days
Of yore.

Faithful friends who are dear to us,
Gather near to us,
Once more.

Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through some how,
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Loss and a very conditional hope for the future suffuse the song and make it all the more poignant when we consider its historical context. The final injunction retains the feeling that one must sieze this opportunity for a merry little Christmas because there may not be another. I don't mean to be so sober and depressing, but it is an achingly beautiful song even in the more up-beat and familiar Frank Sinatra version. Still, to return to my original point, there are some Christmas songs that need to be quietly and permanently retired. The dogs barking Jingle Bells is certainly the one that only the person making royalties from its play could love but the Chipmunks Christmas song needs to be buried very deep right next to those barking dogs.

But enough of the cynicism! How was my Christmas? Not so bad.

My friend, Anna, and I shared Christmas dinner with her soon-to-be 91-year old mother at the assisted living facility where Emma Catherine lives. We had a very good institutional meal which was punctuated with the poor enunciation of one of the servers. You see, the meal offered a choice of roast beef or roast turkey or both. Probably because of the two kinds of meat there were two kinds of potatoes, baked and mashed. The woman serving the side dishes asked each personoming through the line, "Mashed or baked?" She didn't enunciate clearly, however, and tended to elide and run her words together. So I'd barely begun eating when I thought I heard her say, "Masterbate?" "No. She can't have said that," I thought. Then I heard it again. A moment or two of processing and I realized that she was saying, "Masht er bak'd" Anna had heard it the same way I had so we had to explain it to her mom, adding that it was a good thing that the server hadn't any comments about plucking the turkey.

But the sort of high point for me came on Saturday, the 22nd. I was working as a cashier in the local arts association's Christmas store. A couple came up to my register with their little girl who was probably about 4 or 5. While I was ringing up their purchases the girl asked me, "Do you know Santa Claus?"

"Yes. I know him a little."

"I'm kind of afraid of him."

"Well, you don't need to be. He's o. k. Besides, did you ever think that Santa might be a little afraid of you?"

It took a second or two but her face screwed up and she began to cry. I felt terrible. I said, "He might be afraid that you wouldn't like him." That got her thinking and the tears went away as quickly as they'd started. Her parents understood and I think she might have left a little less afraid of Santa Claus. I hope so.

In any case, as cynical as I am about the commercialization of this season and the enforced conviviality that gives us some license for viciousness for the other 46 weeks of the year I do know Santa Claus a little and wish you all "a merry little Christmas".