Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Throw Your Arms Around the World at Christmastime

I think I did a Christmas card topic on this a few years ago, but I've decided it bears repeating.

Christmas songs.

Every year I always think, I'm not sure I'm up for it, the same old "have yourselves" and "chestnuts roastings." I blame 93.3, which starts broadcasting their holiday music 24/7 on November 1. I've had to start purposely removing them from my pre-settings on my car radio to avoid routine irritation.

But by about December 6th or so, I'm ready.

I grew up going to church, so I'd learned all the Christmas staples early on. I'm not sure of my favorite, although it's hard to go wrong with a whispy rendition of Away in a Manger. My mom's favorite carol is O Come All Ye Faithful, so we sang that one a lot at bed time. I'll will say, the minor-chords of We Three Kings scared me a little.

The first "modern" carol I learned was Rockin Around the Christmas Tree. My fourth/fifth grade teacher taught our class this song in some elaborate gymnasium-style circle dance. I can remember being thrilled by the jaunty guitar riffs (or maybe I am only remembering the Hall and Oates version a few years later...)

Lately, there are three songs in heavy rotation on my iPod - a James Taylor version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (this was on his October Road CD that my brother and I listened to constantly the year I worked for him and the meloncholy tone often tears me up, but I cannot not listen); Sheryl Crow's take on The Christmas Song, complete with a Memphis-horns-worthy brass section; and a soul-melting rendition of Ava Maria by Chris Cornell (then again, I could listen to this man sing cat food commercials all day long...)

My favorite Christmas songs, though, will forever be the ones I heard in the early 80s. It was the birth of MTV, and, again, I was excited to discover a world beyond We Saw Three Ships. Billy Squire recorded a new song called Christmas is a Time to Say I Love You, and sang it with the entire staff at MTV during what looks like their holiday party. It played in heavy rotation among the already heavily rotated fifty or so original songs already playing in 1982. Elton John made a deliriously fun song/video called Step into Christmas, much of which he is engaged in a wobbly kick line with his band mates.

Of course, the grandaddy of all MTV-era Christmas songs is Do They Know it's Christmas. In November of 1984, Boomtown Rats lead man, Bob Geldolf, called in favors on all of his British buddies and sparked the trend famous-people-on-a-riser music (on a side note, anyone who hasn't seen the "Kidney Now" parody song on 30 Rock, should find it on YouTube).

When I first heard the song - or rather, saw the video - it was difficult to simply get over the novelty of having all of your favorite musicians together in the same room (this was before We Are the World and the string of other knock-offs.) Sting and Bono, Boy George, George Michael and the gals from Bananarama: a perfect marriage of abundant young hair and earnest expression.

I will shamefully admit that I began making fun of the song in my twenties - There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas... Far as I can tell, there's never snow in Africa ever. Do they know it's Christmas?.. Um, no, because they are Muslim and don't celebrate that particular holiday.

Maybe it is just a function of aging sentimentality, but my love for this song has returned with a ferocity I cannot fully articulate. Perhaps it is like looking at an old yearbook and marveling at the young faces of the musicians who are still recording today, perhaps it is the deepening understanding what it means to have so much when so many have so little.

Or maybe it is just the chimes. It's hard to resist a song with a rocking chime section...

Happy Holidays!


  1. No mention of "Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time" or whatever the hell it's called? Not to get all negative, but man I hate that song. Thinking about it right now hurts.

  2. Yeah, thanks for bringing it up and embedding it in my brain all day... I did however forget the legendary Bing and Bowie "Little Durmmer Boy" offering. Oh, and on Christmas Eve I saw "Reggae Christmas" by Bryan Adams with an awesome cameo with Pee Wee Herman in a Rasta wig...