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RSVPhillippi | December 2018

Dennis Phillippi

Though It’s Been Said Many Times…

Before we get down to brass tacks here I want to make it clear that I love Christmas. I love the decorations. I love the good cheer. I love everything about it. The day after Thanksgiving I always tune to the radio station that plays Christmas music non-stop. There is no war on Christmas or I’d be putting on a uniform to defend it. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

 Yes, I tune into the holiday music and that’s when the questions start. How can such a charming holiday season have such bizarre songs? The message of the season is supposed to be peace and harmony and yet the music associated with it have some seriously twisted imagery.

Let’s begin with what I’ve always considered one of the most demented songs of the whole canon, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” You’ll recall that because of some unexplained genetic condition young Rudolph developed a bright red nose. I’ve known people who have developed bright red noses, but it wasn’t so much inherited as imbibed. Rudolph was much too young to have gotten a case of gin blossoms; it was just a simple condition. This condition for some reason was extremely alarming to Rudolph’s parents;, to the extent they felt compelled to conceal it from Old Saint Nick himself when he made a family visit.  Once revealed, the other reindeer excluded Rudolph from all of the reindeer games, and Santa didn’t lift a finger to stop them. Then, along comes a Christmas Eve with a terrible snowstorm. There’s no way to get the presents to the kids around the world because of these white-out conditions. One would think an outfit that is headquartered at the North Pole, and which has the one really busy travel day a year would have contingency plans for this kind of thing, but no.  Instead it’s decided that the only practical way to get a mammal-propelled vehicle around the globe safely is to have a pubescent reindeer with a shiny nose lead the way. That’s all well and good if you can suspend that much disbelief. Where we run into the problem is the central message of the song. It’s okay to ostracize someone for being different unless the thing that sets them apart somehow suddenly comes in handy, then they can go down in history as a hero. Great googly moogly that’s a pretty bad example to set.

Of course no one ever seems to be bothered by the fact the Frosty the Snowman appears to melt at the end of the song with the empty assurance that he’ll “be back someday.” He melts. We can ignore the whole weird voodoo of a hat that animates snow, but that ending is at the very least unsettling.

Now, let’s say you’ve just given birth. Not given birth in a nice maternity ward where you’re surrounded by the reassuring beeps of life saving equipment. No, you’ve given birth in a barn, in a manger.  A manger, unlike the way it’s always portrayed as a cozy rocking cradle, is, in fact, a trough animals eat from. What you need is rest and peace and quiet. The very last thing you need is a kid to come on and start banging on a drum. It’s the only gift the kid has to give.  Except maybe silence. Maybe wash a few diapers. No, all he’s got to give is wailing on a drum beside a woman who has just given birth and a newborn. She is said to have nodded her approval, but my guess is she was nodding off and trying to get the brat to go make that racket someplace else. And just in the interest in brevity we’ll completely set aside the whole idea that “the ox and lamb kept time.”  For one thing, keeping time isn’t their job; it’s the drummer’s job. For another, they’re, you know, an ox and a lamb.

There’s been controversy over “Baby, it’s cold outside,” not because there’s no mention of Christmas anywhere in the song, but because when examined closely, the lyrics are genuinely disturbing.  It starts innocently enough with the woman saying she has to go and the man saying how great it’s been to see her. Then when she says her mother and father will be worried, he starts urging drinks on her.  In less than two sentences she’s literally asking,“What’s in this drink?” What’s in this drink? How did no one notice for decades what that line implies? I used to always turn the radio up when this song came on, but now it’s starting to feel a little Cosby-ish.  

I get the idea of decking the halls with boughs of holly, but like so many holiday songs it’s got to be baffling to children. Kids don’t know any more about decking or boughs than they understand the proper social decorum regarding when and where to play a drum. I’m an adult and I haven’t the faintest idea of how one goes about trolling an ancient Yuletide carol. If we’re going by the current vernacular then we’re supposed to go online and insult the ancient Yuletide carol.  That doesn’t seem like a very Christmassy thing to do.

Having said all of this, and yes, I fully expect to hear from a few of you, I’m not kidding when I say I love Christmas. I love the holiday season. I don’t care which holiday you celebrate, they’re all basically trying to send the same message. Be kind. Be helpful. Care about others. Just because someone celebrates a holiday other than Christmas doesn’t mean they’re attacking Christmas. They’re just celebrating peace in their own way. And maybe they’re a little freaked out by some of the Christmas carols.