“So this is Christmas”, sings John Lennon, “And what have you done? Another year over. And a new one just begun.”
In our western society there is no holiday or seasonal time of year with so much music and song so dedicated to it.
Everywhere, at the years end, it is all-Christmas, all the time.
The music runs the gamut from child like fun songs such as “Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer” and “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” to the religious and sublimely beautiful like “Cantique de Noel” (O Holy Night). I heard this version on the radio while driving home many years ago and decided immediately to track it down to give as a present to my Christmas-loving wife. Placido Domingo in Vienna, sung first in its original French. Tears filled her eyes when I put it on the big stereo for her to listen to that Christmas morning— and here it is for you.
I did not always embrace Christmas, Jesus, and the music of the holiday as I do now. On the contrary: I was a real “Bah, Humbug” Christmas hater. I grew up a Jewish kid who learned too much, too early about the Holocaust and the long history of anti -Semitism that I blamed much of on the Christian church. I also hated how the Christians had taken everything for themselves like the tree, the lights and the music. To me it wasn’t “Frosty the Snowman” it was “Frosty the Catholic”.
Even though I married a Catholic woman who absolutely loved Christmas, I myself maintained a strong dislike for any incorporation of the Christian sectarian into society. How I got from that to listening to Christmas music in the middle of summer is the personal part of the story.
It was Dec. 23, 2001 and I was driving by myself from the Boston, Ma. area all the way to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Less than 2 years before I had gone down to Ft. Lauderdale with the mission of keeping my hospitalized father from dying and I did not succeed. I carried buried guilt for that failure. Now it was right before Christmas and I was leaving my wife and kids in order to be with my mother who was having emergency heart surgery.
Sept. 11, 2001 was still a fresh wound. I was as emotionally scarred by that day as any American who had not suffered a direct personal loss on that awful, awful day. Emotionally, I was supercharged.
I was listening to the radio while I am driving. Once you get south of Washington, D.C. it gets to be hard to avoid country music and so it happened that I came across a song titled “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” by Alan Jackson. This is the chorus:
I’m just a singer of simple songs.
I’m not a real political man.
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran.
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young.
Faith, Hope and Love are some good things He gave us.
And the greatest is Love.
I believe we listen both emotionally and intellectually and I believe I am more of an emotional listener. I listened to this song, and a dam just broke and I was sobbing uncontrollably. Suddenly, my intellect jumped in to remind me that he distinctly went out of his way to mention Jesus; always an instant turn off for me.
“There’s that Jesus…sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong again…”
—And then all at once I had this epiphany: if knowing Jesus brings anyone to Faith, Hope and Love I have got no problem with that, Absolutely, positively, no problem whatsoever. In that one instant I gave myself permission to love that song and its powerful emotional message.
So then I found myself purposefully searching for country music stations just to hear that song again and I discovered country music of great beauty, complexity and emotional depth that I had no idea existed. I had always dismissed country music as being only twangy songs about beer and pickup trucks. I was wrong, and I went on to find many great country songs and songs from different faith-based musical genres to love. And all the Christmas songs I had hated suddenly became wonderful.
But that still did not take me to Christmas music in July. For that I needed to discover The Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO). In Copper #31 I praised TSO’s non Christmas music but it was through their Christmas music that I first fell in love with them. The first TSO album I acquired and the first one I’d recommend to anyone interested in checking out TSO for themselves is The Lost Christmas Eve. It’s 23 tracks of original compositions and exciting remakes of existing Christmas classics. To me it is all good. To me it is all great! But I’ll just pick out 2 and leave you to decide what you think for yourself. Once again I feel compelled to recommend these songs be reproduced on a stereo capable of presenting them in the large and overpowering manner in which, I’ll argue, they should be heard.
First is the 3rd track. “Christmas Dreams”. It is forever my wife’s song; especially at Christmas but also throughout the year. It is a big, loud, powerful love song from me to her. I am an emotional listener, and this song is an emotional powerhouse. All I can say is that you can listen for yourself and let the song take you where it will. Songs like this are mini-symphonic masterpieces.
Jumping to the other end of the album is a very special and religious song: “What Child Is This?” If this rendering sacrifices some sweetness it more that compensates for that with straightforward emotional force. For me it is a big, powerful, emotionally dark sounding love song to Jesus. The innocent birth, the saintly courage, the life lived truthfully and bravely and finally the pain and suffering on the Cross. I’ll suggest listening to the track before it first. It makes for a great intro, It is only one minute, and besides that I am a sucker for bells and chimes.
“Have a very merry Christmas,” sings Yoko Ono, “and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear”
Happy Hanukkah, too. May all beings be happy, at peace, and free from suffering.