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Do You Hear What I Hear?
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It was 73 and sunny, still two weeks before Thanksgiving, and I was stuck in traffic on the 405. Over the car radio a DJ on KOST-FM was extolling the “holiday spirit.” Then he played “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry - a song so old that it doesn’t rouse spirits so much as it conjures ghosts of Christmas past.
Autry, Burl Ives, Karen Carpenter and, of course, Bing Crosby: you don’t hear them much except during the ever-expanding period we like to call The Holiday Season. It begins whenever stations like KOST and merchants like Walmart say it does. But it always features the music of a rather small clutch, most of whose members have long departed.
Why do we cling to stuff like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock”? Some say it’s part of Christmas tradition, which it now certainly is. But I think the bigger reason has to do with wistfulness for a time when things seemed to work better, cost less and spark fewer controversies - while appealing to our more innocent selves.
Holiday songs provide the gift of suspended disbelief.
We read about drones in the driveway, but sing of sleighs on the roof. There’s news about politicians’ illicit affairs, and melodies about mommy kissing Santa Claus. We ignore global warming, yet worry how we’ll cope “if it doesn’t snow on Christmas.”
My own brush with the commercial world of holiday music came nearly three decades ago, just as I was starting on “Candid Camera.” We were shooting a Christmas special for CBS and tried a gag at a restaurant in Connecticut where the strolling violinist knew only one song, “White Christmas,” and played it incessantly.
We got humorous reactions from about a dozen people before someone in our crew asked if we needed permission to use the song. We phoned an office in New York City, where none other than famed composer Irving Berlin, age 100 at the time, considered our request, and then said no. He explained that he didn’t want to spoil the dignity of the holiday (although I felt his concern was more for the dignity of his song). If he were around today I wonder how Irving Berlin would feel about so many other undignified turns in our media and music.
I enjoy most Christmas songs, even the sappy ones, but I seem to have an annual limit of about 150 hours or four weeks, which ever comes first. So I fear that starting the season too early will leave me unable to sing “ho, ho, the mistletoe” with gusto when it really counts.
On that note, and before you reach your own seasonal limit, try this test of Christmas melody savvy. Here are snippets of lyrics from five well-known holiday songs. Send me the titles. The first 15 correct entrants will receive a copy of my book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” whose title seems appropriate as we ponder what’s ahead in the New Year.
Email your titles to: Include your full name and address. One entry per family. Correct answers and 15 winners will be posted on December 19, at
Here’s the list:
(a) “So jump in bed and cover your head...”
(b) “When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze...”
(c) “We’ll face unafraid the plans that we’ve made...”
(d) “He said let’s run and we’ll have some fun...”
(e) “My dear, we’re still goodbyin’...”
Decision of the elves is final. Fa la-la-la-la, la la la la.