Gabrielle is off to school, William is off to work, now what’s for me to do? Turn the carols on, of course. It just isn’t the holiday season without Bing, Burl, Dean, Kenny and Dolly, Nat and Karen, is it?
When I was a kid, my mom would turn on the carols the minute Dec. 1 rolled around and, after smearing on an application of Nice ‘n Easy, would clean her way through the entire house on Saturdays belting it out to Anne Murray and Roger Whitaker.
My favorite carol is “Silver Bells.” I can so vividly imagine walking on those busy sidewalks with everyone holding shopping bags and the smell of roasted chestnuts in the air. It seems so magical and exciting and old timey, the days when everything happened downtown and department stores reigned supreme. I always imagine snow is falling gently and all the store windows are elaborately decorated with Christmas scenes.
My second favorite is “O come, o come Emmanuel.” When I lived in Winnipeg, my family would join my best friend Kristin’s family at her church for the candlelight service. We’d always sit upstairs so we could look down on the sanctuary. The church would be nearly dark except for the warm moonlight filtering through the stained glass. Then the first singer, in a cream choir robe, would walk down the main aisle holding her candle, singing the opening verse in a perfect voice.
Then others would follow behind, blending their voices to hers, and they would start lining up on the bleachers set behind the pulpit. Everything would keep getting louder and louder and brighter and brighter as more people walked down the aisle carrying their candles. Finally, they would all be gathered and the song would peak.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel.”
I tell you, it would rip your heart out it was so beautiful.
In my book, not so though when it comes to the song “Baby, it’s cold outside.” This year Idina Menzel released her version in a duet with — shudder — Michael Bublé, and it’s hit the Pandora Christmas station hard. I realize I forgave a lot of these lyrics when they came out of Dean Martin’s mouth, chocking his pushiness up to an outdated brand of harmless flirtation. But to hear current singers unabashedly sing lyrics like “(I ought to say no, no, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer” or “(Say what’s in this drink) No cabs to be had out there,” it all seems a baby step away from date rape.
But, maybe I’m being too sensitive. I know for sure my husband is when it comes to carols. Essentially, he hates them. First off, Kenny and Dolly, we can’t even play when he’s in the house. He grins and bears the others, but I know he’s not enjoying them. This strong stance, I’ve learned from my friends whose husbands are likewise anti-carol, is actually not that unusual. Apparently carols are like mothers-in-law: you either love them or hate them. There is no middle ground.
According to William, it’s not so much the music as the fact that we listen to the same songs sung by the same people year after year. This, to me, is part of why I love them so much: There is great comfort and memories in things that stay the same. But for him, it’s depressing, akin to being stuck in a rut.
But even he agreed there is no solution to his objection, because new versions of old carols are almost always a let down. I understand there are people out there who like to hear Mariah Carey or Pearl Jam sing about Christmas, but I am not one of them.
One of the first carols I ever learned was when I was in kindergarten for our Christmas concert. It seemed like we practiced for weeks in that dark gym, spending the majority of our time sitting cross legged on the floor while the older grades took their turn on the lighted stage.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of our choir teacher at the time; she was a fill in for beautiful Mrs. Lee, who was probably on maternity leave. This old woman was decidedly not beautiful, with a nose like a tulip bulb, brown, brushy hair and a shrill soprano voice. But, for some reason what she taught me stuck, and I’ll end my carol tribute with it. Here goes:
Christmas is coming,
The goose is getting fat,
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny,
A ha’penny will do.
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.
Here’s what a block quote could look like. You can insert it anywhere in the story.