28 November, 2010

Advent Calendar in Song: An Introduction

Last year, on a drive back from Doncaster, I was so struck by hearing one of the best Christmas songs "Fairytale of New York" on the radio, that I decided not just to share my thoughts on this seasonal gem, but to sporadically, if not daily, hold forth on some other tunes from the flow and ebb of yuletide. But, I didn't quite get my ass in gear to do this last year, but it turns out that's a good thing.

You might ask why a Jewish guy, or in my case more ish than Jew, being predominantly atheist and lover of slow cooked pork roasts, is doing compiling a list of Christmas music? (Go on, ask, I'm waiting....)

  1. I love cover songs, and the canon of Christmas songs, both religious and secular, has been done by so many artists so many different ways, you'd think they were all "Hey, Jude".
  2. I'm celebrating my Jewish heritage. No, I don't mean in a "Christ was a Jew" kinda way. (I never understood Jews for Jesus, they may as well be Buddhists for Zoroaster, or Hindus for Odin, or Seventh Day Adventists for Leprechauns.) I'm thinking of the huge contribution of Jewish songsmiths to the genre of Christmas songs in popular music. Irving Berlin practically invented the genre. It would have been White Chanukkah, but Bing couldn't cope with the "ch" sound. I may not be religious, but I'm proud that my grandfather was a klezmer.
  3. Nostalgia, I may live in the UK, where no one does Christmas better than they do, but they don't show A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph, or the Chuck Jones Grinch. I need some of that Vince Guaraldi and Thurl Ravenscroft, to put me in the right mood.
  4. The best Christmas music, either sells the sense of cheer and community really really well, or subverts the over the top schmaltz of Christmas. A win/win for both my softer and cynical sides.
I have this love/hate relationship with the whole Christmas thing. Growing up surrounded by Christians, I often felt that Christmas was being shoved down my throat. To some extent it was a season of alienation. On the other hand, my sentimentalist streak is a sucker for the Capra-esque feel good, Clarence has got his wings, Cor blimey, if it isn't Mr Scrooge with the largest goose for the Cratchits, God Bless us Everyone. I am Grinch 2.0.

So, while I have little feelings for Christmas as a holiday, per se; to me it is my wife's family's annual self-martyrdom competition, and a new Dr Who special. The Spirit of Christmas (tm) or more accurately the Jungian archetype behind the absurdly over manufactured notion of the Christmas as a season of giving, brotherhood and overindulgence, strikes a hugely soothing chord in my heart chakra (existential fulfilment). I have a nearly complete ignorance of Christianity, so I wouldn't be surprised if Christmas had something to do with Jimmy Stewart seeing what Oz would have been like if Rudolph had been allowed to play reindeer games.

Finally, I would have been late starting this last year, until moments ago, I thought Advent started on Dec 1st as most chocolate Advent calendars do, but the internet informs me that this year it starts today. So, feel free to comment on my ignorance, or let me know your own obscure Christmas tunes.

While I'll probably dip back to this one, I'll leave you with a bit of Linus and Lucy, and yes, this is where I learned all my smooth dance moves.

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