Tag Archives: Carol Week

Carol Week: God Bless Ye Merry Caterpillars

While cleaning up (at our house) and getting ready for a Christmas party (not at our house), I came into the girls’ room to discover two Christmas beasts crawling around this afternoon. According to my firstborn (dark pink), they’re caterpillars. According to my secondborn (light pink), they’re naked mole rats.

There are lots of animals mentioned in Christmas carols and songs, but I’ve never heard of either of those making an appearance …

Happy holidays!

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Carol Week: Freaky Friday

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Kids singing in unison can be sweet. It can also be creepy. It depends on the time of day they’re singing. And the listeners’ frame of mind. And how in-key they are.

It’s not just singing, either. My girls can be very sweet in their general interactions, but they can also freak me out.

Two or three nights ago, my 6-year-old was being mildly rude to my 4-year-old as they got ready for bed, so I dropped some fatherly (though admittedly made up, as I’m an only child) wisdom:

Me: Treat her well. You’ll be sisters your whole lives.

Firstborn: I hope we die together. Like if someone shoots me with an arrow, it goes through me and hits her, too.

Second: Maybe she can be standing in line, and I’m right behind her, and the arrow would go through us and make a big hole.

Me: Uh … that’s … a nice … thought?

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Carol Week: Away in a Manger

 

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The decorations have been slow to come out this year, for some reason. Actually, I know the reason: our thirdborn, the 1-year-old. He’s not Christmas tree compatible, and a Douglas fir or whatever tends to be the centerpiece of the seasonal decor. We’re still planning to get a small version—something that would fit on a tabletop—but in the meantime, the nativity sets have been trickling out. My wife and daughters put up our first string of lights yesterday.

We have been listening to carols every night. After story time, the girls like it if one of us stays in the room for a while as they fall asleep. I tend to sit in a chair in the corner of their room and work on a writing project or play some mindless video game, and since Dec. 1, I’ve added playing carols, softly, to the routine.

Not much else, today. Last night was a very late night for various reasons, and a slice of life is what I’ve got in me this morning. May your day be merry and bright …

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Carol Week: Worry Wednesday

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“Oh my / friends I’ve / begun to worry right.”

What you might know about me: I’m a bizarre sort of perfectionist and I frequently feel guilty, whether I have a reason to or not. Despite my knowing that I’m not Atlas, that the world doesn’t rest on my shoulders, I walk around hunched like it does. Like if I don’t hold it all together, everything will start to fall—at least my corner of it will—and it will be nobody’s fault but my own.

Every year, I make myself wait until after Thanksgiving dinner to listen to Christmas music. Then I stop as of Dec. 26. I’m a big fan of Pandora, and my favorite two holiday stations are based off of Sufjan Stevens and Bing Crosby, respectively. While Sufjan’s “Sister Winter” is probably my choice song for the season—aside from the traditional “O Holy Night,” which I’ll take in any form—perhaps the song I most look forward to is an outtake of Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing “Jingle Bells.”

I first came across the song in my Pandora shuffle a couple years back, and I’ve since sought it out. My Secret Santa at the office got me an MP3 download of it last year. The song moves along like a normal take on the tune, but there’s a hiccup here and there in the timing. You can tell Bing Crosby is sort of giving up after a while, because he throws in a joking “Yeah!” at one point after a flubbed cue, and as the wheels fall all the way off the cart, he sings “Holy Jesus Christ!”—prompting an “Urk!” from one of the sisters.

Sufjan sings: “All my / friends I’ve / returned to Sister Winter. / All my / friends I / apologize, apologize.”

Bing Crosby is calling out to Jesus flippantly, but I like the element it adds to the effort, like a sheepish plea to the original manger-born inspiration behind the ancient carols that have since given way to more generic winter melodies and lyrics.

Some church music has an odd history. There are hymns that actually began as drinking songs, freshened up with new lyrics. “What Child is This?” is set to the tune of “Greensleeves,” which was a slang term for a prostitute—or at least a woman willing to lie down in the grass, getting stains on her clothes.

The history and evolution of sacred music, the way it intertwines with popular music, is messy and surprising.

It’s not perfect.

I like that.

I didn’t realize until recently that one of the signs of the season for me is hearing a song that wasn’t intended to be heard. An outtake. A mistake.

I look forward to hearing it in my random shuffle of holiday music, even though it’s technically flawed. It’s profane, in the literal sense of the word. And yet.

The awe and wonder of this time of incarnation isn’t dimmed. Atlas can indeed shrug*. The plan, after all, was not for a baby to be born in a stall intended for livestock.

Sufjan sings: “And my / friends I’ve / returned to wish you all the best! And my / friends I’ve / returned to wish you a happy Christmas!”

 

* I can’t stand Ayn Rand by the way. At all. It’s a “Wonderful Christmastime”-level can’t standing.

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Carol Week: The Non-Play List

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I mentioned yesterday that I can’t stand “Wonderful Christmastime.” The synthesizer, the lyrics, the overall cheesiness and dated feel of the song—I can’t take it.

But my least favorite song of the season is “Christmas Shoes.” It’s not technically a carol, I know, but it’s terrible. It’s sappy and saccharine and tragic and features a whole choir of children singing the chorus at one point. And it inspired a TV movie starring Rob Lowe, who was wonderful in West Wing and Parks and Recreation but makes bizarre career choices—like the remake of Salem’s Lot.

I can’t stand Christmas Shoes for a multitude of reasons, including the narrator’s belief that his encounter with a kid whose mom is about to die was a wake-up call for his benefit: “I knew that God had sent that little boy to remind me just what Christmas is all about.” Really? I’m so glad a desperately poor child with a terminally ill mother restored your holiday spirit.

I also don’t like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” because the man singer sounds so creepy—pushing alcohol on his female guest and invoking his own wounded pride as a reason she should stay with him. At one point she asks, “Say, what’s in this drink?”

Get out! Get out now!

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Carol Week: The Final Countdown

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This is the first year my girls have been into Christmas music. Like really into it. My 4-year-old likes “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” but they’ve both particularly latched onto “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which my wife has declared to be “my song with the girls,” because she’s already tired of it.

I don’t mind singing it with them—even repeatedly on the same car trip—though “with them” is a bit of an overstatement. Caroling sessions usually go like this:

Me and the girls: On the first day—

Secondborn: No. Let me sing it myself.

Firstborn: We’ll sing it by ourselves.

Me: OK.

They tend to be able to get up to the five golden rings, with my 6-year-old carrying her younger sister along lyrically. Then they start to get hazy.

The girls: On the … ssss … sss …

Firstborn: Sev— no, sixth day of Christmas

Both: My true love gave to me! Six … … …

Secondborn: What is it?

The girls: …

Firstborn: Dad?

Me (singing): Geese a-laying!

Secondborn: Dad! We’re doing this ourselves!

This goes on, in terms of number and item/character. My first-grader can count into the hundreds with no help, but for some reason the rising tally of 12 gifts throws her off. Sometimes she works her way up with no problem, but usually she asks me to intervene, and then I’m asked to bow out again until the next lapse.

The girls: Twelve drummers drumming! Eleven … …

Me: Pipers—

The girls: Pipers piping! Nine—

Me: Ten—

Secondborn: Dad!

Firstborn: Ten lords a-leaping!

Firstborn: Nine … …

Me: Ladies—

Secondborn (simultaneously): Ten lords a-leaping!

Firstborn: (simultaneously): Nine ladies dancing!

The girls: Uh …

Firstborn: Dad?!

Me (miming milking): Eight—

Secondborn: What?

Me: Maids—

The girls: OK, OK! Eight maids a-milking!

Secondborn: Now just us again.

As frustrating as it is musically, it’s really very sweet. And it’s way less annoying than Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” I can’t stand that song.

What are your favorite/least favorite carols and songs?

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