By now, you’re thoroughly drenched in holiday music – with the vast majority of the songs celebrating Christmas. So why bother with yet another holiday-themed mix? Yes, we have 25 Days of Mellowmas here at Popdose, and Jason Hare did a great job on putting together a holiday mix on the Friday Mix Tape. But even with all that, I felt something personal was missing. It started me thinking about my childhood, the belief Christmas myths (mostly Santa), and how when you’re a child, the holiday season really is quite magical. But there comes that time when, for some kids, the magical sheen of the holidays starts to melt and there can a be a feeling of loss. But instead of getting all boo-hoo about it, I decided to gather five of my colleagues at Popdose and ask them to write about two things: 1. Their favorite Christmas or holiday song. 2. When they stopped believing in Santa Claus. Their responses, as you might guess, are varied, and as you see when you read these recollections, not all really bothered to adhere to the writing assignment. That’s okay, I wanted something personal, and I think I got it. So here we go! [-Ted]
“See You Next Year”
— Ted Asregadoo
“I Saw Three Ships,” Judy Collins (Download)
My favorite Christmas song is “I Saw Three Ships” and I’ve heard this song in various versions for years, but on a whim I downloaded the Judy Collins version and felt that she struck the right chord on how she sung it and the tempo she chose. Most of the versions are rather jaunty little numbers that make me want to skip around the house like I’m at some Renaissance fair, but the version Collins does here is, to me, simply beautiful — and I’m not even a Judy Collins fan!
Initially, what got me thinking about this post was that I was raised nominally Episcopalian for a good chunk of my childhood, but my mother was a Hindu. And having a split religious home, it was my mom (oddly enough) who insisted that the kids be raised Christian because she didn’t want us to be picked on at school (being the only “person of color” at my school had its own trials and tribulations), so we mirrored my father’s chosen religion doing our part to assimilate into the dominant culture.
Part of our religious upbringing (and reinforced by that great socializing force, TV) was taking part in Christmas celebrations, believing in Santa, flying reindeer, elves and all that Rankin-Bass stuff. When I was five, we got to do something that, for me, was completely new — well, because I’m the youngest of four kids, it was new to me. That year we were able to hang stockings by the fireplace. We didn’t have the nice red stockings that are pretty common nowadays. Instead, we hung our socks that we wore every day. My oldest brother had tube socks and gave me one to hang — mostly because mine was so small. He told me that Santa would probably fill the entire sock with candy. This was 1970, and my parents were pretty parsimonious when it came to candy, so the thought of a tube sock full of candy was just the most exciting thing I could think of. Fixating solely on candy, I really didn’t care about the presents under the tree or the fact that Santa was supposed to bring more. I just wanted to wake up to that tube sock full of candy!
That night, I mostly dosed in and out of sleep. At one point, I was convinced Santa was on our roof, so I woke my other brother (who was two years older, and shared a room with me) and and told him that Santa was in our house ’cause I heard the “thump” of reindeer outside. We rushed to the window — only to see a neighbor and his family coming home from Midnight Mass and slamming car doors.
Somewhat crushed, I went back to bed, only to dream of that tube sock overflowing with candy. Finally, after going back and forth to my parent’s bedroom to ask if we could open presents, they finally said yes, and I bolted down the hall to the living room — with my brothers and sister not too far behind me. I grabbed my tube sock, opened it only to find … nothing. Where was the candy? Where was all that sweet, lovely, chocolate goodness I was denied for most of the year? My oldest brother had the answer. Above our socks was a note — which my brother took down and read aloud : “Sorry kids. Ran out of candy. See you next year. Love, Santa.”
If a cartoon bubble could appear above my head back then, it would say “WFT?” I protested to my mom: “If Santa goes around the world giving candy and gifts to children, how could he run out of candy?” She didn’t have an answer, neither did anyone else. Being the youngest, they probably didn’t want to disappoint me. But after hearing my brother read that note, I knew the whole Santa thing was a crock.
“Rock of Ages (Ma’oz Tzur),” Marc Cohn (Download)
I was talking with a friend recently about his family’s plans for the holidays, and he told me they were planning on spending Christmas with his wife’s parents; the decision came down, in his words, to “traditions.” Specifically, my friend’s parents don’t have any, and his wife’s family starts the morning with Dad making pancakes while a 100-year-old model train trundles around its track underneath the Christmas tree. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t give a shit about presents if I got to laze around in front of an antique train under a glowing tree while someone made me pancakes; if it’s all about traditions — and I agree with my friend that it is — that sounds like a pretty great place to start.
Because neither of us are particularly religious, and we’re both bad enough liars that we’re reluctant to play up Santa Claus, my wife and I have struggled with what to do about the holidays. Our daughter is four and our son is two, and they’re both aware of Santa, but only through the same cultural osmosis that introduced them to Dora the Explorer and her asshole brother Diego. I’m in no rush to trigger the consumptive landslide that will bring cravings for closets full of battery-powered gewgaws, and I’m enjoying the years before my kids start bringing me wish lists of ridiculous things I can neither afford to buy nor suffer the guilt of not giving — but I’m also enjoying the unexpectedly tentative process of building our own family’s traditions.
My favorite Christmas music carries the warmth of the season, as well as the pleasant heft of old things — memories, family members, traditions. And that’s why my favorite holiday song is Marc Cohn’s “Rock of Ages.” Even on his worst songs, Cohn has a voice like your favorite sweater, and here, he wraps it around a timeless ode to faith and thanksgiving. I could listen to it any day of the year, but it resonates strongest during these dark, freezing winter months, and particularly during the holidays, when even a grown-up non-believer can feel a little of the electric anticipation of youth.
“Ave Maria,” Perry Como (Download)
Favorite holiday song – It was a close one, Perry Como and Nat King Cole going head-to-head with a smooth classic Kung-Fu face-off. In the end, I figured someone else would surely handle “The Christmas Song”– so Como wins.
Perry’s version of “Ave Maria” has long been a family favorite, and the guy carries it off beautifully. He doesn’t get a lot of credit as a crooner, as his repertoire always leaned toward the kitsch and schmaltz, but in this particular rendition he provides the necessary reverence and grace this particular composition demanded.
I’ll admit that I still fronted like I knew about Santa Claus a year or so after the veil fell from my eyes. I was a smart kid. I knew what side of the bread had the butter — and I wasn’t about to blow my nose with my slice, okay?
But there came a time when the truth was unavoidable, and those were really lean times. My mom mostly handled Christmas while my dad worked to keep his business, a television repair shop, alive. The mortgage payment, as well as a house with four kids (at this stage, three with my older sister on to a life of her own) and all the expense that it entailed, made my mother’s paycheck already beg for mercy — never mind decorations, gifts, holiday food. I must have been fourteen at the time, but it became apparent that someone needed to intervene for my younger brothers. So I did.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. I got taken to the cleaners by a local comic book shop that gave me $30 for a stack of Claremont/Byrne X-Men comics in near mint condition. I knew I was being taken for a sucker on the price, but this was before the Internet, E-bay and the wide world of options we take for granted, and this cheap-ass venue was the only buyer in town. And $30 was thirty dollars. I worked odd jobs on the weekends and bought gifts from the Odd Job discount store, trying to maximize what little I had.
I also wrote and drew a comic book of my own and sold it in school, managing to scrape another $40 out of that, if you can believe it. (An aside, the third issue of that photocopied comic book had a guest inker on a couple pages. He went on in future years to be the writer for IDW’s Angel and Spike comic series. If you like comics as well as Joss Whedon’s Buffy Universe, you should check him out.)
Some of us waffled on when Santa no longer existed. Others were forcefully dragged from Toyland for fear of freaking out the other inhabitants, or of just being too damned greedy. Still others had to assume the role for the sake of a younger generation that needed just a few more years of fantasy. God knows that “once you left it’s borders, you could never return again.” I just didn’t think it was time for my brothers to go. Not yet.
Some of those Christmases as “Santa” were the best of my life. I miss them a lot.
“I Think I Think He’s Real”
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland (Download)
Considering that my wife and I have chosen not to push any particular faith or creed on our children, I’ve often wondered why we’re so committed to prolonging my 8-year-old daughter’s belief in Santa. After all, non-belief would be so much more convenient — we could open presents on Christmas Eve, late-night toy construction would no longer be required, and I wouldn’t have to shush my 12-year-old (for whom the Santa ship sailed two years ago) every time he scoffs at his sister’s giggly anticipation.
The answers, of course, are primarily selfish ones. For one thing, the cuteness of childhood Santa belief is irreplaceable: Catie’s wish lists are among the most eloquent (and ornately decorated) documents she writes all year, and this week she once again plans to leave Santa a note asking him to stay for breakfast on Christmas morning. Beyond that, however, I simply would prefer that my little girl not grow up until she absolutely has to. I’m already shattered that she has no interest in The Princess and the Frog — not because I particularly want to see it, but I want her to want to see it. I don’t know how I’ll get over her loss of faith in Santa, whenever that Christmas arrives.
My son first began to suspect the truth when he was 9, and a snotty friend went around school telling everyone that Santa was a hoax. He came to me in a state of turmoil, and I tried to “reason” with him: “Do you always believe what your friends tell you?” “No.” “Do you have any other reason to believe Santa doesn’t exist?” “Not really.” “Do you think everybody would spend a whole month talking about him if he didn’t exist?” “No.” “Well, what does your mind and your heart tell you?” “I think I think he’s real.” “Then he is.” That conversation got him through one more year — and I’ll always treasure the gift of that one extra Christmas when I could still pull the wool over my (now jaded) son’s eyes.
For an otherwise happy and Christmas-obsessed kid, the loss of Santa often represents one of the first holes punctured through the innocence of childhood. It’s a shame such an event has to happen this time of year — but then, no matter what your faith, the December holidays should be a time of heightened emotions, and I suppose disillusionment is as good an emotion as any. Maybe that attitude explains why I like my Christmas songs to contain a hint of melancholy — whether it’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” or “White Christmas” or “Blue Christmas” or even “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (with its intimation of future marital strife).
There’s no more melancholy holiday hit than Judy Garland’s original, Meet Me in St. Louis version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” whose message about absent loved ones so moved listeners during World War II. I like the fact that Sinatra demanded (in 1957) that lyricist Hugh Martin “jolly up” the lyric “Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” into “Hang a shining star upon the highest bow” — and I love the fact (explained in Wikipedia) that the song’s initial lyric was even more depressing than the version Garland sang. But mostly, I love the occasional introduction of wistfulness into a season of music which practically demands a good cheer that isn’t always warranted — particularly when a kid has just learned that reindeer can’t fly … or when a dad has just learned that his daughter’s not quite a child anymore. That’s one emotion I’ll be happy to put off for another year — or for as many as I can manage.
“A Song of Home”
— Scott Malchus
“Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming,” Mannheim Steamroller (Download)
I don’t recall when I stopped believing in Santa. It seemed like a natural occurrence with my friends and I; we all sort of figured it out one day and that was that. I don’t recall being all that crushed.
What I do recall about the holidays of my youth were the high school holiday concerts we had to go to each year. My father was the band director and so, as dutiful children, we had to sit through BORING classical music for an hour. Making matters worse was that the concerts were held in the school gymnasium, so that hour was spent bent over on uncomfortable wooden benches. It must have been around the sixth grade, though, perhaps when the whole Santa thing stopped making sense, when I noticed a quiet hymn that my father had arranged for his horn section. “Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming.”
I later learned that it is a 15th Century German composition and of any musical number played that year, it is the one that stayed with me. Each year after that, when we had to endure another one of the concerts, I always looked forward to hearing that one number before fighting off sleep — and the constant nudging of my mother.
Besides the various rock and roll songs that get me in the mood for the holidays, December never seemed just right unless I heard this classical piece at least once. Alas, I never sought out a recording of the number, and during the years in college when I missed my dad’s high school Christmas concerts (although, I believe the were already being called Holiday concerts), I was just a little disappointed.
The first year I spent Christmas morning with my wife’s family, her father put on the popular Mannheim Steamroller album, A Fresh Aire Christmas. The music played in the background while everyone opened gifts and drank coffee. About 20 minutes into the album “Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming” came on. Whatever nervousness I may have had being the new son-in-law was washed away; hearing that song confirmed that I was home.
“The Direct Line to Santa”
— Michael Fortes
“Fuck Christmas,” Fear (Download)
I have a dark side. Of course we all do, but given that about the only hint I’ve given to Popdose readers that such a side exists in me is the old “Idiot’s Guide to Slayer” that I wrote for the old Jefitoblog, I figured it bears a mention here. After all, I just chose Fear’s “Fuck Christmas” as my favorite Christmas song (or as I have preferred to represent it since at least 1999, Xma$) over classics by Nat “King” Cole, the Beach Boys, John Lennon, and gazillions of others. What the fuck?
This time of year is supposed to be happy. It’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy and full of solid family togetherness and celebrating with friends and loved ones. Yes, I like all of that, and yes, I partake … sometimes. Let’s just say I’m ambivalent, and I won’t get into all the whos and hows and whys since I’d be stepping on the toes of the Political Culture section, and besides, I’ve neither the time nor the inclination to construct such a raging diatribe. Nor would you probably want to read it either, unless I was paying you for some deep psychoanalysis. And even then… oh, forget it. It would be much easier to just blame it on losing my belief in Santa.
Thinking back, it was probably in fourth grade when it finally happened. I’m not 100% positive on this, and I’d rather not bother my parents with this useless, embarrassing piece of personal trivia. But it was around that time. And yes, it’s true — most of the kids in my class were far less naive and already hip to the fact that Santa = Satan — I mean parents, rather. They looked at me in disbelief when I proclaimed that I still believed in Santa. Some even laughed. I actually don’t recall my classmates being terribly cruel about it, like they would be about other less personal issues just a couple years later, such as my steadfast belief — held to this day — that the Vietnamese do not deserve to be blown off the face of the earth.
But I digress.
Anyway, my classmates’ reactions were enough to shake up my faith to the point where I decided to do some snooping around the house. It was kind of exciting, actually. My parents had artificially extended my faith beyond its reasonable shelf life by insinuating in previous years that they had a direct line to Santa, and that I could ask for what I wanted through them. You know, kind of like how when you’re growing up Catholic, you are taught that, since your priest has a direct line to God, confessing your sins to him is the best way to let the Almighty know that you are sorry for all the horrible, heinous transgressions you committed. So the thought of secretly finding those Transformers I wanted hiding out in a closet somewhere in the week leading up to Xma$ was a thrill, in spite of the prospect of my shaken faith in Santa being obliterated once and for all.
Of course, I found what I was looking for, exactly where I imagined I would find it.
And so, knowing that the truth had been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, I had to do the noble thing and break the news to my younger brother. But you see, even though I could snoop my way through a house undetected, I wasn’t smooth enough to choose my words and timing wisely. “Jonathan, come here! I have something to tell you.” My father was close by, and when he heard me utter those words, he knew exactly what was going on. He laughed, oh how he laughed. And for a long time thereafter, he didn’t let me forget it, much to his great amusement. And people wonder where my sick sense of humor comes from, the one that I don’t let out very often.
It was a pivotal moment, one where I began questioning why, in our culture, the happiness of children had to be predicated on the fine line between fantasy and lies. Why couldn’t we just find the wonder and amazement and pure joy in honest-to-goodness reality? Are there that many people who think that such an idea is impossible, or just too difficult to deal with, since the longstanding tradition is so easy to continue? Okay, I said I wouldn’t go there, and I’m going to stop — and let Fear have the last two words on this topic: FUCK CHRISTMAS!