Holiday Songs That Always Make Me Cry

The holidays are supposed to be a time for cheer, happiness, partying, peace, good will. While I certainly participate in striving for these, there are certain holiday songs that always make me cry. Considering these, I think it may be that they envision a better type of human, a more empathetic and caring society. Not fashionable these days, I know, but with my schizophrenic personality, half cock-eyed optimist, half gloomy cynic, I’m able to live with the contradiction.

The first isn’t traditional at all. Written by Jerry Herman in the ‘60s, “We Need a Little Christmas” is from the musical Mame. It seems to insist that we stop all this nonsense with wars and greed because “I’ve grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older.” Certainly true of both me and the world.

The next can be guessed by many, “So This Is Christmas” by John Lennon, also known as “War Is Over” (good luck with that). This song gives all of us a much-needed scolding. “What have we done, Another year over, a new one just begun?” Sad to think Lennon was unable to convey his lesson in time to change his own fate.

Although the subject of “Good King Wencelas” is a saint from about 900 a.d., lyrics were written in 1853 and paired with a 13th century tune. I love the story captured in the song, the miracle of heat in the sod, and the admonition “Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

The next probably won’t be familiar. I learned “Masters in this Hall” in the fifth grade from my wonderful singing teacher, who passed along so much history and appreciation of music. Another hybrid of an old French tune and lyrics by Englishman William Morris in 1860, it carries an openly revolutionary message. “Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell sing we loud! For today our poor folk raised up and cast a-down the proud.”

Even a tune so innocuous it seems simply a paean to the season can carry inspiration for humanity. “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” (note the comma, thus making the statement a command to gentlemen at large, as well as gentlewomen), slips in words of encouragement and counsel. “With true love and brotherhood each other now embrace. . .oh tidings of comfort and joy.” Surely only the most radical in the 1600s as well as intervening years even dreamed of universal brotherhood, although the definitive term may be “gentlemen,” since in those days most people were excluded from the category.

Finally, “Oh, Holy Night.” In addition to its electrifying melody and soaring exhortations, its subtle message of “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn” provides an optimistic message for us to whistle or hum during the holiday season.

There you have it. My personal list of holiday favorites, always sure to tweak my emotions with thoughts of what humans are and what they could be, if only. If you see me driving along the street at this time of year, tears streaming down my face, you can be fairly sure I’m listening to one of my favorite Christmas songs.

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CHESTNUTS ROASTING, JACK FROST NIPPING, YULETIDE CAROLS KAZOOING

 

Most families have holiday traditions, enjoyed to a greater or lesser degree depending on the people and paraphernalia involved. These can develop unintentionally. For example one friend’s father-in-law-in-law (meaning he’s her son’s connection, not her own) has established a practice of spending the entire day bad-mouthing and swearing over national Democratic politics. Hardly conducive to pleasant conversations, let alone good will. My father’s was to give my mother a pair of flannel pajamas. Hardly romantic.

Whatever yours includes–midnight church service, caroling, roast beef for dinner instead of turkey, opening one gift on Christmas Eve, decorating with ugly candles passed along from grandmother–the list goes on endlessly. You can get sabotaged by rituals if you allow them to become dictates. One friend was so turned off by her partner’s insistence on perfect decorations that she gave up all holiday signs after she lost him.

For years my family’s tradition was tootling on kazoos. I can’t say enough good things about kazoos. Anyone could play one almost immediately. Even my tone-deaf husband joined in with no embarrassment. Laughter abounded, overflowed, and made our stomachs ache.

Seems to me the birth of the practice was the radio or record player booming after the holiday dinner, and guests began humming and singing along. Lacking a piano, organ, or guitars, I longed for some method to increase our volume and coordinate the melody. I can’t recall why I had a stock of several dozens of kazoos many Decembers ago, but I pulled them out and distributed to anyone who’d take one. The music from electrical equipment quickly became overpowered by the strength of the live performers in my living room.

Easy to play were the oldies “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” However, we quickly mastered playing parts and playing in rounds. I don’t know how we had the breath to keep the concert going. We seemed to break down in hysterical laughter as much as we made music. Each person tried to toot louder or more dramatically than his neighbor.

“If you can hum, you can play” is the advice of kazoo aficionados to novices. The mistake of most newcomers is to blow like you would a trumpet, but the player’s voice needs to vibrate in order to make the membrane inside the kazoo, which amplifies the notes, quiver. This membrane can tear or stretch, but if you’re as dedicated as I am, you’ll learn you can replace it with tissue paper or even plastic wrap cut to the correct size. YouTube has videos that offer instruction if you’re a rule klutz.

The highlight of our holiday performances? Nothing can match the musical thrill of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah played in parts on a dozen kazoos. It beats a production from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir because you and your family and friends are playing it. Those who prefer can sing the tune in parts of harmony.

Kazoos appeared on the American scene in the mid- to late-1800s. However, they’re related to a number of membranophones, instruments that modify the player’s voice through vibrations. They have waxed and waned in popularity and still sell in the millions. I personally prefer the timbre of the traditional metal variety, but plastic versions appear in most toy stores.

Prepare yourself for the holidays. But if you miss your opportunity, don’t wait until next year. National Kazoo Day is January 28. The perfect time for you to become active in politics as well as music. You can join the continuing campaign to have the kazoo declared the USA’s national instrument, a well deserved honor because it’s certainly the most democratic

 

How to Get Organized and Disorganized

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I’ve been a list-maker since childhood, and the holidays reinforce that character trait. Lists of gifts to give people, tasks to be accomplished, Christmas card recipients, presents I might like. But I’m beginning to realize that lists don’t necessarily make me more efficient. Rather, they force me to feel guilty. I’ve never been successful in crossing off every item on a list. In fact, the to-do’s seem to increase faster than the now-dones.

When I had a regular full-time job, my lists covered pages. I usually had one sheet per major project with sub- and sub-sub headings. Then, of course, I had the lists for home duties and the ones for other activities and writing. I experimented with keeping lists on paper, on a Palm Pilot when I still had one, on computer. Lists in various colors depending on type of task or in specially constructed tables and addenda to tables.

Since I stopped working for anyone other than myself, my lists have shrunk. But they still exist. Right now, I have four lists in my bag:
1. Items to learn about so I can use my tablet better.
2. Very old things I’m researching about publications or major household needs like photographing home valuables for insurance purposes.
3. Immediate needs, like finding a furnace maintenance business.
4. Kind of in between long- and short-term chores, like update my website and get the venetian blinds cleaned.

But then there are the immediate, don’t-forget-these-under-any-circumstances, such as birthday cards. These appear in my pocket calendar. And lists for special projects—marketing my fiction and organizing a volunteer effort.

I think list-making helps me feel I’m creating order out of chaos. If an item or task appears on a list, I don’t worry about forgetting it, and I can tell myself I’ll get to it eventually. Which I don’t necessarily. Hence, the guilt.

No reason to feel guilty if I apply one condition. The trick to controlling lists? IF YOU WAIT LONG ENOUGH, MANY OF THOSE LITTLE NOTES TO YOURSELF ARE OUT OF DATE AND YOU CAN THROW THEM AWAY. An example. Over months, I tracked down a writer whose work I admire, intending to send her a message. However, she’s quite elderly. If I wait long enough, she’ll pass away, and I won’t need to get in touch with her! Another example—transplanting herbs at the end of summer. I waited until the first freeze, which destroyed the herbs, and I now can drop that item!

Try applying this technique to your own lists and see if it helps you control them.