A confession: I hate Christmas carols.
Well, maybe not all of them.
Christmas music gets piped into every retail store, airport and bus station beginning six weeks before Christmas. The onslaught now begins before Thanksgiving. So each year, I must endure five or six weeks of music I was totally sick of from the get-go.
If I never hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” again, it will be too soon. My friend Steve Barrell heard that one while visiting his mom in assisted living and Steve’s sister got quite huffy. She thought it was inappropriate for frail people with walkers.
Steve lives in California, so he’s probably safe from attacking reindeer. They don’t have enough snow for Santa’s sleigh. Like us, they’re just dreaming of a white Christmas.
“Santa Baby” is another one I could do without. Our Sopris Sun editor Will Grandbois thinks “it’s disturbingly adult given its addressee.” Personally, I’m miffed about this song. Both because Santa is married, for goodness sake, and because the singer is so mercenary. She’s not as sacrilegious as Janis Joplin was in asking the Lord for a Mercedes Benz, but she’s not as funny either.
That’s the other big gripe I have about Christmas music. It’s the soundtrack for the Grinches who really have stolen Christmas — the hucksters. I’m already cranky about the commercialization of everything from clothing to magazines to parks and stadiums. I won’t buy any clothes with the brand on the outside; my body is not for rent as a billboard and I’m certainly not offering it up as free ad space! I won’t read magazines that are mostly advertising. And I resent having the nation’s high holiday highjacked in the name of convincing us all to buy yet more stuff we don’t need.
Woe betide those who work retail during the holidays! They are held hostage to endless of repetitions of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Why? Because psychologists who study retail have proven that Christmas music, combined with holiday scents, will increase both the time shoppers spend in stores and their buying intentions. Merchandisers are subtly scheming to get you to come home with five golden rings, four calling cards, three French wines, two boxes of turtle chocolate and a partridge in a pear tree.
Perhaps the reason I’m such a Grinch is that I’m over-exposed. A. C. Nielsen reports that about 70 percent of the public likes Christmas music. But the number who consider themselves actual “fans” declines with age. Nielsen’s 2017 holiday music audience report states that’s 36 percent of millennials are holiday music fans, compared to 31 percent of Generation X and only 25 percent of baby boomers.
As a boomer, I have already consumed more than six decades of carols. During my teenage years, I often had no option other than AM radio, which, even in the 1970s, was offering a steady diet of singing Chipmunks (released in 1963), dogs barking Jingle Bells (1955) and Bing Crosby (1942) interminably dreaming of a white Christmas. My love of ice-skating has contributed to over-exposure; as a thrice-a-week figure-skating student and a twice-a-week figure-skating teacher, I have spent countless hours on the ice trapped under poor-quality PA systems blaring Christmas music.
Luckily for me, I hear too poorly to make out the lyrics to what my friend Claire Lewis calls “the rappy, moany just-need-you-in-bed for Christmas” songs.
Unluckily, the words for dozens of Christmas carols have been indelibly grooved into my memory. They’ve become permanent earbugs, evil as the insect that Ricardo Montalban dropped into Pavel Checkov’s ear in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.”
Lest you think that I’m a total Scrooge, there are a few carols I actually do like: “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” written by Johan Sebastian Bach in 1733. “Good King Wenceslas,” which was published in 1853, setting lyrics to a Finish tune that dates back to the 1500s. (Wenceslas was a 10th century Bohemian King.) And “Riu, Riu, Chiu,” a medieval Spanish villancico. It was preserved in a collection of madrigals published in Venice in 1556 and was probably written in Catalonia. (Yeah, I’m old, but not quite that old.)
In addition to being ancient and classical, these carols share something more. They celebrate things the season really should be about: reverence, joy, generosity and faith. I’m not a Christian, but I appreciate those virtues, as do millions who honor other faiths around the globe.
And on that note, let me wish you a glorious holiday season with another carol that I like, one that just makes me feel happy. As Jose Feliciano sang it: “Feliz Navidad – prospero ano y felicidad. I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heart.”
Published in the Sopris Sun, December 13, 2017