The War on Holidays

Ah yes, the fairly recently-deceased Andy Williams…I inserted that song by that artist here because he’s the most old-timey, Christianisty singer I can think of offhand.

But listen to the song.  He’s not singing “Merry Christmas.”  He’s singing…GASP…”Happy Holidays!”  And he’s not singing about creches, but instead about all the secular Xmas (more on that word later) symbols of Christmas that there are, and then some. Heavens, what’s Fox News going to say.  Well, this song predates Fox News by decades, as did Andy Williams.  And Fox News has never said anything.

The fact is, time was that “Happy Holidays” was not considered shocking or anti-Christian at all.  Nope, back then, people tried to keep “Christ” out of “Christmas” by wishing each other “Merry Xmas.”  Problem is, in some language or another, “X” refers to the savior. This was back in the 1960’s, however, when no one bothered to look at that language to find out what it referred to.  It was a very different world back then.  Honest.  All this Christian shit didn’t whip itself up into its present full-fledged frenzy until the 1980’s or so.  (That’s not to say it didn’t exist, but I will tell you that back then, a man considered to be an arch-conservative — Barry Goldwater — warned of dire consequences if any of those religious whackos got into government.  50 years later…)

In those days, religion and politics didn’t mix; in fact, in polite company, they weren’t even discussed.  In fact, one of the (bogus) concerns about John Kennedy was that he was Catholic and might be beholden to the Pope.  But when priests insisted on getting involved in anti-war activities, the Vatican shut them down.  Hard to imagine, but true. Anyway, the 1940’s through the 1960’s were the decades when Christmas was stripped of whatever Christianity it had.  It is not a recent development, trust me.  And no, there is no “war on Christmas.”

Mind you, I have friends in countries that are largely Christian, such as Australia, who inform me that it is now illegal to wish someone “Merry Christmas” in public.  Since the wingnut revolution is in its infancy in that country, it’s hard to know if this is true or just misinformation.  The point is, however, in the U.S. it is not illegal, nor is is likely to become so.  Christmas is too profitable to do away with.

However, Fox News is fussing and fuming and turning purple about the phrase “Happy Holidays.”  Let’s clarify something here: (1) there are not just one but MANY festivals of light — and Christmas is a festival of light, as it has deeply Pagan roots — around the winter solstice.  And although the U.S. remains largely Christian, a lot of Christians aren’t particularly Christian and the remainder of the population celebrates all sorts of stuff like Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and so forth.  And you can’t always tell what someone is celebrating by looking at them.  So, “Happy Holidays,” which means “Happy HOLY days,” is a good alternative to taking a wild guess.

What Fox News is going after here is not a “war on Christmas,” since there is none and even if there were, it is hardly symbolized by the use of “Happy Holidays.”  No, what they are after is promoting religious discrimination against those who celebrate other holidays, or those who just think Christmas is one big fat overblown pain in the ass.  Like the true bullies they are, Fox News projects their intention onto others; thus, the bogus “War on Christmas” has been born. The trouble is that these attempts to control what everyone says and thinks chip away at our true freedoms, which are freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  All the whining in the world can’t disguise the minefield that has been created, especially for those of us who must deal with a diverse public.

From me you will hear Happy Holidays if I don’t know you.  You will hear Blessed Yule if I do.  The vast majority of people are okay with that. And for those who are not, I only ask them to turn off their TV set.  Thank you.

The Requisite “War on Christmas” Post

First I must give credit to Fox News for creating an issue out of nothing.  I do this just before wishing them all the rotten karma in the world.  Because they created this problem, now commentators like myself have to comment on it.  F*$) you Fox News.

But seriously…

As I’ve said frequently in the past, I work with the pubic.  I haven’t mentioned that I work with a very DIVERSE public.  The company is in a wealthy, white-bread neighborhood, but the clientele is extremely diverse (and divided) in terms of religion.  This colors my view on this faux “War on Christmas” outrage.

You see, a large portion of the clientele is Jewish.  A sizable minority are Muslim.  Even among the Christians, there are all sorts of denominations.

Some Jews are not happy about what they view as Christmas decor in our establishment, and several times a season I have to deal with their barely-concealed rage.  In one remarkable incident, I had to deal with a  kid (who had clearly been coached) demanding to know why we didn’t have any Hanukkah decorations.  Much more commonly these folks protest by marching through the place saying the word “Hanukkah” as often and as loudly as they can.

On the other side of the issue, and with much  bigger mouths, are people (almost always elderly males), who find the decor offensive because it’s not religious, and that awful holiday music intolerable because it doesn’t mention the baby Jesus.  I hear from one of them almost every friggin’ day during this season.

Thank you, Fox News, for this latter group.  I wouldn’t know if I still had my hearing intact without them yammering in my ears.

Mostly they become upset over the non-issue of being addressed with “Happy Holidays,” instead of the very risky “Merry Christmas.”  I’ve got news for them that I’m sure Fox News hasn’t delivered: “HAPPY HOLIDAYS” MEANS “HAPPY HOLY DAYS.”  It’s only (possibly) an insult if you are NOT RELIGIOUS.

Here are some other inconvenient facts: It is unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25.  However, as it happens, December 25 coincides with various Pagan observances (which are usually focused on the winter solstice), so it’s quite likely that Christmas was INVENTED to distract newly-converted Pagans from their old solstice celebrations.

The other day on a social site, a friend posted one of those “war on Christmas” diatribes that get passed around this time of year, with the usual coda: “if you want to keep Christ in Christmas, share this on your wall!”  To my surprise, she was immediately and sharply corrected by another friend of hers about the authenticity of Christmas.  But she didn’t back down entirely.  “I just am so unhappy that so many people are forgetting about God,” she countered.

And I thought, “Yes dear…just look at Walmart on Black Friday.”

The fact is that Christmas is NOT a religious holiday for Christians.  Never was.  Even the sainted Pilgrims outlawed Christmas celebrations because they felt so strongly about this.

It is, however, a holiday in the more light-hearted sense of the word.  It may nowadays be about little more than mass consumption, but it is a holiday.  And so in my mind, especially while working in a very diverse neighborhood, “Happy Holidays” will suffice.  It provides a safe haven during a time of the year when it seems more and more people are looking for excuses to feel sorry for themselves. “O, tidings of comfort and joy,” indeed.

And to Fox News I dedicate that very well-known song by C.lo Green.  The original version, that is.

Ain’t No Black Friday

In the last few days I’ve stumbled on a Faux-News right-winger sore spot: Black Friday.

I never would have guessed it, but I suppose I should have: these people become enraged when one criticizes Black Friday — almost as enraged as when you say there is no real “war on Christmas.”

I suppose next someone will say Black Friday is in the Bible and we should worship it.  Before that happens, however, I’d like just a moment to point a few things out to these people.

Yes, over the years marketers have noted that the day after Thanksgiving is one of the, if not the heaviest-sales day of the year for any kind of unnecessary junk you can imagine.   This was back in the days when nearly everyone got the day after U.S. Thanksgiving off.  Note that a large part of the previous sentence is in italics.  This is for emphasis.

Yes, Black Friday still is breaking records for sales.  But there are a number of things at work here, and none of them is in the Bible: (1) credit cards, (2) large numbers of people being out of work, which is the only reason they are free on Black Friday, since many businesses (retail among them) now ignore the formerly expected 4-day Thanksgiving holiday, and (3) retailers often give extreme discounts on made-in-China junk on that day, meaning that all that plastic money that doesn’t go into pockets of people like the Kochs goes out of the country.  Which is to say that if one is shopping that day because of a sense of patriotism, that patriotism is misguided or at least mislabeled.  What it really is, is extreme foolishness in the name of today’s conservatism which struggles to keep things as they never were.

Why do I hate Black Friday?  Because I know people whose Thanksgivings are ruined by it.  These are people who work in retail, who are only free to enjoy the holiday until, say, 5:00 p.m. because their employer, determined to make a mint the next day, has ordered them to be at work at midnight Friday.  Why do they do it? you ask.  Because they are afraid of losing their jobs, dummy.  That’s because the economy is so freaking WONDERFUL, you know.

Why do I hate Black Friday?  Because it detracts from Thanksgiving, which was a gift to us from Abraham Lincoln.  It was to be a day of thanking whatever deity you prefer for the harvest.  Just think: we who are so religious have trashed this faintly-religious holiday in favor of a false consumerism holiday leading up to another faux-Christian holiday that was usurped from the Pagans, who were the last ones to observe it seriously.

To put it another way, let’s just call Black Friday the real war on Christmas, because it exposes Christmas as what it really is: fake.  No deity ever asked anyone to go into massive credit card debt in the name of a solstice observance, okay?

Again, why do I hate Black Friday?  Because it creates a false sense of security that the economy is just fine, thank you.  To people who insist that Black Friday means all is well with the world, I have only one thing so say: what kind of economy is it that is only healthy one day a year, or only maintains health because of sales gained on one day a year?

Why do I hate Black Friday?  Because of the Jerry-Springer crowd who camp out in front of, say, Walmart and then trample, claw, scratch, maim, and even shoot each other while trying to grab the latest plastic junk first.  You know, all in the name of peace and love and Jesus.

One friend cited Christmas season hiring in retail as a sign of economic health, saying they “help people put food on the table.”  No.  All a temporary, minimum wage job does is give one enough money to buy gas to go stand in the unemployment line after Christmas.  You cannot feed a family on a Christmas-job wage.

This morning another friend cited attacks on Black Friday as attacks on Christmas.   In a way, she’s right.  But if you are determined to take this seriously and without too much thought, all I can say is this: if her Jesus were alive, he’d die all over again at that reasoning.

Here is all Black Friday is: corporate money-grubbing enabled by easy credit.  Take either of those factors away, my dears, and there ain’t no Black Friday.

And wonder of wonders, your churches are still standing anyway.

P.S. — to find out about and/or support the anti-Black Friday movement, see Buy Nothing Day.

Taking a Small Break

Those who know me know that I’ve been ill with some sort of respiratory virus since before Thanksgiving.  It’s finally gotten the better of me and I’ll be taking the next few weeks (now to New Years Day) off.  Cya next year, but I’m not going before making  a remark or two.

There seems to be a stepped-up amount of whining this year over any attempt to (excuse me while I gag) take CHRIST out of CHRISTmas.  All I can say is pretty much what I’ve said before:

(1) He was never there to begin with, so get over it…and

(2) We have a large number of people in this country who have no jobs or are underemployed.  They are losing their homes.  They have no health insurance.  They have no future and no hope now that Congress is blithely busying itself by doing such vapid things such as voting against imagined horrors like healthcare for 9/11 first responders and a ban in child marriage.  No one seems to be able to face the facts that the Rebiblicans caused the financial meltdown to begin with, and that we can’t possibly fix it by applying the same old remedies that never worked before and then shrugging as they don’t work yet again.

Bet on this: next they’ll be getting down to business, getting terribly upset — I mean, they won’t just pass a law against it without dumping the Teabaggers into the streets with oodles of idiotic and ill-spelled signs — about some left-wing anti-Christ attempt to declare Twinkies to be junk food.  Fox News will be howling and their minions on Capitol Hill will humbly obey.  Meanwhile, people will be starving and only be answered by a hollow echo saying something about what lazy worthless asses they are because their jobs have been shipped overseas, their homes have been foreclosed, they can’t pay for healthcare and their expensive college degrees are worthless*.  “Nothing to see here,” we will be told,  just before the next manufactured outrage arises… probably this time about some former teen star wearing a shockingly low-cut dress to an awards ceremony.

So with that, I leave you to enjoy your holidays, whatever they may be.  Happy Yule and New Year.

*”Oh, that’s just because they majored in Liberal Arts,” you say?  Guess again, sports fans.   For example, among my acquaintances are 2 recently-graduated nurses who cannot find employment; meantime it’s said that area hospitals are very, very busy expensively importing nurses from other countries.  And I’m leaving out the un-and-underemployed teachers I know, including a college science professor.

Happy Yule

No use putting Christ back into Christmas, because he was never there.  Christmas is actually the Winter Solstice, known in some past civilizations as Yule.  Christmas was an invention to replace Yule.  It never had anything to do with Jesus.

After my early-childhood awe of Santa left me, I never really enjoyed the season until I found that out.  Life seemed empty after there was no more magical man appearing in the living room overnight and depositing cherished plastic toys in prettily wrapped boxes.  No, it just meant yawning through family gatherings and going to church and yawning through some idiot blathering about how sinful you were to only show up in church once a year, on Christmas.

Then I found out that the real  holiday was the winter solstice, or Yule, and that it had real meaning (the return of the sun) and much in the way of natural magic.  And now it means everything to me.  You can perhaps experience some of it in this link, if you can quiet yourself for a while.

See what I mean?  I hope so.  (If not, work at it; you’ll be happier for having done so.)

And so my advice is that if you don’t want to drag through yet another weary Christmas season feeling harried, angry, and empty…quit your whining and stop pretending Bill O’Reilly knows anything about anything.  He’s just an asshole looking for fame by rousing the rabble. 

In this case, it’s much ado about nothing.  Christmas was the birthday of a great-aunt of mine, but she died a few years back.  I know there are several thousand others who have it as a birthday now.  If you know one of them, wish them a happy birthday.

But actual Christmas falls after the Solstice, and is beside the point — and that’s just the point.  There is no point to it.  So instead, look outside your window today and ponder a bit about the natural world.  It’s truly a gift from the divine.  Honor the divine, not a fake birthday.

Happy Solstice.

Really, really bad holiday songs

(updated slightly on 12/24/10)

I’ve been exposed to almost nonstop holiday music for the last few weeks, and although I realize that you probably tuned into this blog for political commentary (such as it is), I’m doing music criticism today (such as it is).

Just some observations:

Holiday (i.e. Christmas) music is the only music that is universally hated by everyone listening within a half hour of beginning to listen to it.  Yes some of it is due to religious objections, but the fact is that Christmas is not actually a religious holiday.   Never was.  Some Christian sects don’t even observe it, and with good reason: the historical Jesus likely was not born in December.  The holiday Christmas was merely invented to replace the Pagan celebration of Yule, which was either a celebration of the rebirth of a dead god or of the sun, or both.  Any yammering to the contrary from anyone — pro- or anti-Christmas — serves no purpose.

Back to the subject, I think the better reason for most people can’t stand holiday music is that a lot of holiday music is just phemonenally bad.

I’m not going to bother to come up with a list of 12 worst, as so many bloggers have done.  In fact, a lot of those bloggers have erred in that they have attributed the fault not to the song, but to the singer.  While hearing the screechy Celine Dion assault “O Holy Night” leaves one wishing for the sound of fingernails scratching on blackboards, the fault is just as often with the song itself.  In a word, too many of these songs suck.  And if a song sucks, then even Jose Carreras can’t resurrect it.

Examples of songs that suck?  Too bad I don’t know a lot of the names, but the ones that I do know are plastic gems like Santa Baby (actually written in 1953), All I Want for Christmas is You, Wonderful Christmas Time (which is not only among the lamest Paul McCartney songs ever recorded, but even more horrifying, it’s being covered by other artists), any song that threatens Santa to either bring “peace on Earth” right now OR ELSE, and any song about “having Christmas all year long,” which would quickly lead to WWIII.  Any song that compels a singer to over-sing, vibrato-ing madly about “peace” and/or “brotherhood” over a heavy drumbeat  should have all evidence of its existence destroyed.  Usually equally as bad are songs about missing or having sex with your sweetie on Christmas.  That is truly is something anyone can do at any time; there is no correlation with any holiday unless one is a Pagan and celebrates Beltane.  And then, of course, there are those stone-cold techno-trash remixes which serve no purpose whatsoever except to make an already annoying song more annoying — or several such songs at once in a sort of jumbled digital music salad.  It’s even worse if they trash a good song this way.  Bing Crosby’s version of White Christmas comes to mind; yes, someone remixed this with a god-awful computer-tinny drumbeat thing.  Whoever did this, I hope they find a day job soon, somewhere far from the music industry.

Mistakes singers of holiday songs make that nearly compel me to want to end their careers violently are usually limited to having a voice that is not up to the song (see remark about Celine Dion above).  This is absolutely epidemic among holiday-song singers, especially those recording the old-standard holiday songs in the last 40 years or so.

A more recent mistake, however, is adult female singers singing in baby talk.  The whiny-snotty voice of Taylor Swift comes to mind (when is she finally going to get to the overexposure stage???); too many of them actually sing that way all the time.  But lately I’ve heard more than a few launch into holiday songs in not just baby talk, but exaggerated baby talk.  It’s as if it weren’t bad enough to begin with.

One time when some overgrown girlie singer was simpering and cutseying the already horrid “Santa Baby” to death, it got so bad that we all shouted at management to turn the bleeping radio off.  The song had only been playing about 10 seconds before we did so.  But we had to; it was survival.  Another 10 seconds and we’d all have been howling in pain; no doubt with bleeding ears.

Basically, if you’re a recording artist and are considering doing holiday/Christmas music, I have only one thing to ask: please don’t.

On the other hand, there are quite a few holiday songs I can actually stand:

Almost everything Vince Guaraldi wrote or interpreted for A Charlie Brown Christmas.  He even came up with a magical intrepretation of the notoriously lame “Little Drummer Boy.”

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams (this is from his heyday and highlights his beautiful, soaring tenor; there have been other good recordings of this, but no one’s quite matches Andy’s).

“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” by Nat King Cole (gentle and classy).

“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives (if Santa Claus were real and could sing, he would sound like this: fat and merry and slightly sloshed).

“The Chipmunk Song” by somebody on helium (it’s so bad it’s good, which is more than anyone can say for “Santa Baby”).

“Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (yes, her voice can be irritating — but it fits here).

“Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (actually one of the best early rock songs there is, and this is the best recording).

“Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (tough stuff).

“Sleigh Ride” — (any instrumental version.  I hate it when someone tries to sing this, unless it’s the Ronettes).

“Happy Xmas/War is Over” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (the one “peace on earth” holiday song that actually seems heartfelt and appropriate rather than just plain old overwrought).

“Another Auld Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg (Fogelberg evoked a vividly bittersweet scene that one can only fully understand when one is well past the age of 30 — odd in a way, since Fogelberg apparently wrote it while in his late 20’s; it’s probably the sole modern holiday song about lost love that actually works.  I’m not surprised that it’s no longer heard very often — it can be very hard to take — but it is great).

“Snowfall” by Dan Fogelberg (brilliant instrumental that sounds good all winter long; for other good “winter” music, listen to “Yule Dance” and “Feast of Fools” by the same artist).

“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby (no other singer needs to go anywhere near this song).

“Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra (every word in this song seems to me truer to most adults’ experiences of Christmas — wistful, somewhat sad, certainly loaded with bittersweet nostalgia — than all of that hyper-righteous “peace on Earth” drivel lumped together into one steaming pile of reindeer droppings.  And Sinatra sings this song just right, with a worldly weariness).

“I Wonder as I Wander” (a stark beauty that’s nearly forgotten — probably because it’s so frickin’ hard to sing — and it’s a shame).

“What Child is This” a.k.a. “Greensleeves”.

“Coventry Carol”

“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (sung properly — that is to say as a carol, not a pop song; or else, if you need a laugh, “I Came Upon a Road-Kill Deer”).

“Deck the Halls” (or its modern version, “Wreck the Malls”).

“God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” (or better yet, “The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen”).

“The Nutcracker” (all of the music).

“Carol of the Bells” (sung as a carol, not a pop song)

“O Come Emanuel”

“The Wassail Song”

“A’ Soalin”

“Christmas Canon”

I’ll be adding more as I remember them.  Right now I’m having too much trouble getting the memory of…was it Madonna?…forcing “Santa Baby’ out of her nostrils one time too many, which is to say ONCE.