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Trouble with the Messiah’s Handle

On the 10th of December, I declared Christmas Music! I yanked the general music mix thumbdrive from my car’s USB port (a car with a USB port…there’s something I didn’t predict back in high school!) and replaced it with the Christmas Mix thumbdrive. I know some of the stores have been playing Christmas music since Labor Day, but I don’t do that. 30 days and that’s it. Two weeks before Christmas is plenty soon enough, and we don’t end Christmas celebration on December 26th. Why constrain Christmas music time? Easy. I don’t want to get tired of it. I’ve talked about this before: Do Christmas too much or too long, and it ceases to be special.

And there’s that wonderful first few days when you hear songs you haven’t heard for almost a year (at least if you stay out of Target and Wal-Mart) that have in some wonderful fashion become new again. Loreena McKennitt’s “The Seven Rejoices of Mary” brought tears to my eyes, which can be an issue when you’re trying to merge onto the 101 beltway. And that wonderful cover of “I Heard the Bells” by Ed Ames, especially the kicker line, which in Ames’ bottomless canyon of a voice gives me chills and then makes me want to cheer: “God Is Not Dead Nor Does He Sleep.”

I added one this year, as I do most years. John Rutter’s “Angel’s Carol” came on our classical station, and I instantly liked it. Zoomed over to Amazon, paid 99c, and it was mine. That’s how music is supposed to work. Shame it took us so long to get there.

Not all Christmas music appeals to me. Jazzy stuff, well, no. Santa Claus stuff, yuck. Frank Sinatra, don’t get me started. “I Wonder As I Wander” has always troubled me. Not sure why. There seems to be a back-current of despair in it, and I absolutely cannot abide despair. Ditto “The Coventry Carol,” with a melody like something you’d sing at a bad funeral.

And so to my big sort-of-a-complaint for today. KBAQ plays classical Christmas music and does a good job of it. They’re particularly fond of “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” from Handel’s Messiah, and I like it too, especially the cover by Glad. When it comes up on my Christmas mix thumb drive I sing along. Good, high-spirited, affirming, all the stuff I really really like. Until we get to this part:

…and his name shall be Wonderful;

His name shall be Counselor;

His name shall be Mighty God;

The Everlasting Father…

BZZZZT! Hold on there. We’re talking about Jesus here, and I’m a Trinitarian. Jesus is not “the Everlasting Father.” Yes, I know, the verse is taken from Isaiah, written long before we had a clear handle on the Trinity. It still sticks a little, especially in a Christmas context. Ahh, well. Prophecy is hard. Isaiah was doing the best he could, and nailed all the rest of it. I’ll give him that bit, and assume God the Everlasting Father won’t be annoyed if Handel’s Messiah gets the Messiah’s handle a little mixed up.

Nor will I. I save my annoyance for those insufficiently infrequent moments when I’m in a store somewhere and they start to play “Santa Baby.” Please take that song and stuff it up the chimney tonight. Then light a nice fire, the hotter the better.

It’s turning out to be a marvelous Christmas. Don’t forget the Geminids tonight. And sing along with those Christmas songs. That’s what they’re there for.


  1. Mike Bentley says:

    All I could think of while reading this: you still use thumb drives for this?

    1. Well, I used to use CDs. But the Durango doesn’t have an optical drive. The thumbdrives I use are little bumps on the ends of their connectors. What would be better than that?

  2. Larry Nelson says:

    A modern favorite for me is Mary Chapin Carpenter’s very gentle “Come Darkness, Come Light”.

  3. RH in CT says:

    Highly recommended: Songs of Angels by the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers. Robert Shaw is famous as a choral director, and this smaller ensemble combines with Telarc’s superb recording quality to produce a recording that even an agnostic could appreciate. Lots of standards, and some less common songs. Particularly if you have a decent stereo (or headphones) this is one you can turn the lights down and let it just wash over you.

    And for a change, A Consort of Christmas Carols from A Portrait of PDQ Bach add their own flavor to the season. Duh Brooklyn Boys Chorus gives them a fine performance.

  4. Amy says:

    You may have this by now, but you would likely appreciate Pentatonix’ version of “Mary, Did You Know?”:

  5. Jason Bucata says:

    Meanwhile, as I’ve posted on Twitter, how is it that “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is still seeing any airtime now in the post-Weinstein era?

    “Elf” rescued it from whatever obscurity it had languished in before. I don’t think I’d ever heard it before that movie. Kinda sad that a cute kids’ movie resurrected a lecherous song.

    1. I have no clue how old you are, but “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was a Christmastime standard back in the 50s and early 60s. It was on a number of my mother’s Christmas LPs. In truth, at the time (before it went into a forty-year eclipse) I didn’t listen closely to the lyrics, and didn’t quite grasp the notion of “seduction” when I was 12. Elf was a really good flick; we watch it every year. The film’s best line is when Buddy kisses Jovie on the cheek and she looks up at him and says, “You missed.”

      Not sure if you’re aware of another seduction song that was very popular at SF con filksings in the 70s:

      1. Jason Bucata says:

        Yeah, I was caught in the middle there where it had basically disappeared.

  6. Larry Nelson says:

    In this post Weinstein era we have role reversed versions of Baby It’s Cold Outside.
    Everything is better when the Muppets are involved.

    1. Amy Bowersox says:

      See also the gay version, as seen on Glee:

  7. Elvis Newton says:

    Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms. Takes me back to 1958 riding in the car with my parents to pick out a real Christmas Tree. Such trees were not native to Florida and the smell of the crushed needles of a Douglas Fir was heaven.

  8. Orvan Taurus says:

    Ugh.. Santa Baby.. or as I call it, Golddigger’s Christmas.

    Baby, It’s Cold Outside does work better when the vocals are arranged so it’s her trying to keep him in.

    And then there’s that thing that McCartney committed, and that other thing that George Michael inflicted upon the world. Two more tunes that make me wish for a time machine and a bulk eraser to deal with any and all master tapes.

  9. paul says:

    John Berry. Good album and the “O Holy Night” track gives me the shivers. Crank it up in the car and try to sing along.

  10. Jim Tubman says:

    There are some great suggestions in this post and its comments, which I am going to follow up on. Thank you, folks!

    The first Christmas album I ever purchased was “The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas,” back in 1986 or 1987. It was the only product that I have ever purchased because of a TV commercial that gave a phone number. (I *had* to call! Operators were standing by!) It is a mixture of excellent sacred and popular pieces (34), and 11 pop Christmas tunes ranging from meh to dreadful. (The worst was Elvis Presley singing “Here Comes Santa Claus.”) The one Christmas CD set to have if you’re only having one; now sadly unavailable.

    Sorry Jeff, I like Sinatra’s Christmas music. Call it a weakness. But I do hold off on playing Christmas music until the beginning of Advent.

    My suggestion is “The Mystery of Christmas” by Canada’s own Elora Festival Singers. It is available through Naxos records, and is on iTunes. All sacred stuff; no Santa Claus or snow golems.

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