Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Silver Bells

It was the '80s. Two young brothers were getting ready for a Christmas program, and they (OK, we) were planning to sing a duet. The song was "Silver Bells," so how should we dress up? As silver bells, of course! So we went to work. We found big pieces of cardboard and cut out bell shapes that would fit in front of us from the neck nearly to the feet. There was no silver paper handy, so naturally, we did the next best thing: pulled out our box of crayons and used the silver one. Several hours later, we had two silver bells, and a tiny stump of a silver crayon left. I don't remember the performance, but I certainly remember making the costume!

Fast forward a couple years, December 1989 was a very eventful month. Certain Philippine rebels were dissatisfied with the democratically-elected President Aquino and attempted a coup d'état the first week of December. The first day, we were on our roof watching fighter planes fly over, trying to determine if they were Philippine military, American military, or Philippine rebels. After that first day, it was too dangerous to leave our house. Ever people to find humor in a bad situation, someone came up with a parody that went something like this: "Coup d'état! Coup d'état! It's coup d'état time in Manila. Rat-tat-tat! Hear them ring! [I forget the next line] Hear the snipers, rebel snipers..."

The coup attempt lasted about a week, and the rebels lost that battle.

According to Songfacts, the song was written for Bob Hope's 1951 movie The Lemon Drop Kid by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, also known for the classic "Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)." It was called "Tinkle Bells" (evoking the tinkly sound of the bells Santa Clauses and Salvation Army folks ring at Christmas time) until Mr. Livingston played it for his wife. She quickly pointed out that "tinkle" could be, well, misunderstood. Thus, they scrapped the song, but then ended up reviving it, substituting the word "silver." I fully endorse the change.

I like how the song captures the variety of things going on during the Christmas season. People tend to get very busy during the Christmas season. Snow crunches. (I'm sure that sounded a bit incongruous when we sang it in the Philippines wearing bells with silver crayon, as temperatures dip down to the frigid 70s in the winter there.) Kids and many adults look forward eagerly to Christmas Day. At times the spirit is almost palpable. Christmas shopping is an important part of the season. (In fact, that starts in September in the Philippines, along with Christmas music in all the stores.) Some people feel more stressed in the Christmas season when their schedule fills up, but I think it's important to take time to remember and marvel at the wonder of the season. For Christians, we celebrate the birth of our Savior. Many look forward to Santa's arrival and presents. I love how the composers even pointed out that stoplights are red and green. Red lights and traffic can be stressful for people, but it may help to use them as reminders of the wonder of the season. If someone can find humor in a violent attempt at taking over the government, surely we can take traffic, stress, full schedules and more with a grain of salt, and be joyful anyway.

I do recommend singing the revised lyrics though, and not the original ones.

I leave you with Elvis singing a great Christmas carol.