If there is any constant in life, it’s change.
We know that our circumstances can change overnight, so they can certainly change from year to year. Fortunately, Christmas arrives at the end of December to prove that while most things do change, a few things are eternal.
Christmas traditions are important to our festivities, even if you don’t celebrate religiously. People without any faith will celebrate in a secular manner, and other faiths have different religious practices.
No holiday mashes up more mismatched traditions than Christmas. No other holiday brings out the best — and worst — in those who celebrate it in some form or fashion.
The secular trappings of Christmas go beyond, and sometimes overshadow, the Christian celebration of the birth of the savior. That can be frustrating for the faithful focusing more on the Christ child lying in a manger, than on a jolly man in a sleigh.
Individual celebrations tend to grow out of each person’s experience, drawing first on how it was done during childhood. We learn from our parents, just as they learned from theirs. Along the way, adjustments are made to accommodate family circumstances — like whose home can accommodate everyone and how far folks must travel. Nevertheless, certain traditions carry through the generations, and these form the thread that ties families together across the years.
Our Christmas soundtrack is among those traditions. I favor the sacred songs composed many generations, if not centuries, ago, but several secular tunes have become favorites.
Pop songs we hear each December are more recent additions to the playlist, with the majority of them having been introduced in the mid-20th century. A few are songs of faith or songs of winter that didn’t necessarily originate as Christmas songs, but they nevertheless have become exclusively linked to the Christmas season. As examples, I offer “Joy to the World,” with lyrics appropriate for any time of the year, and “Jingle Bells,” originally a song about young men racing sleighs on Thanksgiving.
Christmas music can take us back to childhood, when we left gifts under the tree and then opened them with family. Christmas music reminds us of other memories of happy times. Likewise, Christmas music might trigger certain memories of difficulty, when our personal circumstances were something less than calm and bright.
When we look back at the situations that faced many of the song poets who wrote some of our Christmas hymns, we realize that it was during such bleak moments that much of their work was written.
For pop musicians, having a Christmas hit is almost a guarantee that the performer will never be forgotten. Many of us might not remember the singer Bobby Helms. He had several hits during the 1950s and 1960s, but none of us can forget his 1957 hit, “Jingle Bell Rock.” It’s been two decades since his death, but his song lingers. That recording reached No. 8 on the charts in December a year ago.
Brenda Lee, who is still “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” recorded her hit in 1958. Last week, that song reached No. 8 — its highest ever.
Nevertheless, in recent years, few new Christmas songs have risen to the level of “standard.” Acceptance can take many years.
Another song, using Robert Burns poem “Auld Lang Syne” written in 1788, is heard around New Year’s. It translates “long time since,” or to paraphrase, “long time ago.” Lyric Theatre’s performance this month of “It’s A Wonderful Life — Radio Play,” used it in its closing moments.
Lyricists Mann Curtis and Frank Military expanded its scope with their song “Christmas Auld Lang Syne,” recorded in 1960 by Bobby Darin. As his recording ends, Darin sings, “In sweet accord, we thank the Lord for a Christmas Auld Lang Syne.”
We can all be thankful for past Christmases we have experienced, and be especially thankful for that miraculous, life-changing first Christmas so many years ago. My hope is that next week will bring many wonderful blessings for you to cherish in the years ahead.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.