Here we are again, in “the holiday season”. We’ve just seen Thanksgiving and are in the middle of Hanukkah. Then there’s Christmas, New Year’s and, if you celebrate them, Kwanzaa, and maybe “Festivus” (for the rest of us), created by a Seinfeld episode. We will be bombarded by mostly Christmas messages and music from now until the end of the year, everywhere, relentlessly. The inevitable complaint is that Christmas has become Consumermas. The argument that Christmas shouldn’t be about “buying stuff” is very old and in my opinion quite valid. How many people, for instance, actually live the message in the lyrics of “Good King Wenceslas”? The patterns, however, are unlikely to change anytime soon, as the culture feeds on these behaviors and to some extent even depends upon the sales made at this time of the year to keep the economy alive. That’s another topic – one which I can’t really address.
Personally, I love holiday music and have fond memories of singing it going back to my early childhood. It brings me happiness to sing the carols with friends at holiday gatherings and I feel happy whenever I see people gathering to make music in this way. At my house, we sing Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs alongside the Christmas carols, as we are a non-religious household that celebrates and honors the sacredness of life in all its forms and expressions.
Nevertheless, I have had more than one occasion when I was subjected to music coming at me in department stores and on mall escalators that was, to be kind, less than fabulous. Recordings abound of people singing holiday music with no clue at all about expression or vocal quality or anything that would make it “uplifting” or “joyous”. A really bad version of “Silent Night”, with someone screaming out the song in a screechy belt (it’s a lullaby, after all), is enough to make my hair stand on end. “Frosty the Snowman” doesn’t much mind if someone wants to mangle his signature tune, as he isn’t a heavy dude, man. But a “O Holy Night” that ends up sounding like “O, Holy Smokes!” is just plain revolting. There are plenty of clueless, rotten versions of that gorgeous song available on iTunes and Amazon.
If you have occasion to attend a live performance of holiday music, and it’s good, be sure to thank those involved for making the performance possible. There are far too few opportunities to hear live singers doing holiday music in a way that gives the words meaning and the impact of the various messages real validity. No matter what holiday is being celebrated through song, if the singers are good, they deserve your support and praise. Don’t forget! Fa la la la la la la la la!