Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Christmas Song

The summer of 1944 was particularly eventful. On June 6, Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on what would become known as D-Day. It was a turning point in World War II.

Meanwhile, back in the US, it was a particularly hot summer. Musicians Mel Tormé and Bob Wells needed to cool down, and thinking about winter seemed just the thing. Wells wrote a few notes in his notebook, and Tormé took those words and set them to music. So if you are ever sweltering in the blistering heat of summer, just remember these words:

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire!
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
With folks dressed up like Eskimos 
Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow
Will find it hard to sleep tonight. 
They know that Santa's on his way.
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother's child is gonna spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly 
And so I'm offering this simple phrase
For kids from one to ninety-two:
Although it's been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you!

Nat King Cole was the first to record it:

I'm not sure why they couldn't find a more imaginative title for the song, such as, oh, I don't know, "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"? But no. It's called "The Christmas Song". But then, Keith Green wrote The Easter Song (more recently) I guess that kind of thing isn't unheard of.

The song is a great way of thinking wintery thoughts on a warm day. In fact, I might try singing it next summer if it gets especially hot. It covers a lot of things that people do in the winter. Roasting chestnuts brings to mind the crackle of the fire that helps to warm someone up on a freezing night, as Jack Frost nips at your nose (i.e., your nose is freezing). So you come a little closer to the fire to warm up, and sing yuletide carols. Parkas, such as Eskimos (or more properly, Inuits) are known to wear, also help to keep people warm in the snow. At Thanksgiving, people typically eat turkey, and near Christmas, people have been known to kiss under the mistletoe. Children experience the wonder of the season, waiting with excited glee for Santa to come down their chimney and deliver their presents Christmas Eve. So all that's left is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! If that doesn't psychologically cool a person down in a hot summer, I don't know what will. Maybe singing Sleigh Ride, which was born out of a heatwave two years later, would help.

I love the line about "kids from one to ninety-two." I think far too many people "grow up" and contract adultitis. If you have that, the best cure I've found is to consult the doctors Kim & Jason. But it's important to keep a child-like spirit and attitude. Sure, we need to remember the difference between child-like and childish, but we need to be careful not to "grow up" so much that we lose our sense of wonder, adventure, curiosity and silliness. When my grandpa turned 93, I pointed out that he had finally grown up, since the song says "kids from one to ninety-two." At that point, I decided it should be "kids from one to one oh two" because my grandpa still has a child-like spirit, and I think that is one thing that has kept him alive for 97 years and counting. He may need a walker now (or as he calls it, his horse), but his mind is still active, and he is one of the youngest 97-year-olds I've ever met. In fact, I will be helping him to publish his autobiography, My First 76 Years, next year. He wrote it a few years ago, but has recently been hard at work revising and improving it. Remember how I mentioned that the Allied troops stormed the beaches on D-Day the same summer Wells and Tormé wrote The Christmas Song? He wasn't among those troops, but he fought in the war, and he was in France on V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), May 8, 1945. He is my hero.

If you want to know more about the song, you can check here and here. I especially enjoyed this account of the author seeing Mel Tormé and indirectly brightening Tormé's day.

I leave you with the aptly-named Il Volo (Italian for "The Flight"), some of my all-time favorite singers, singing one of my all-time favorite songs.

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