Friday, November 23, 2012

Count your Christmas music blessings

It's that time of year again. The time when the stores rev up the admittedly too-early and too-oft-repeated Christmas music. And the time of year when bloggers and Facebook status writers, eager to demonstrate their trad-ent or Catholic or Protestant-Scrooge creds, start complaining about Christmas music. This cartoon has been doing the rounds and allowing everyone to feel superior.

However, I was struck when going to the grocery store on the Friday after Thanksgiving by a strange feeling of relief as the strains of "White Christmas" wafted over the sound system. Why the relief? It took me a couple of moments to figure it out. Then I remembered the previous week when I stopped at the store of an evening and heard a song so graphic, so sexually explicit that I could not believe it, until one line had been repeated so many times that I couldn't deny what I was hearing. Admittedly, that was one of the worst to have been piped into my unwilling ears while I'm contemplating the cabbage, but for the most part, the music even on the "oldies" stations, even at our nice little local grocery store, is sufficiently junk-laden that I'm usually glad not to have children along on the trip and come home wishing there were such a thing as mouthwash for the brain. (The music makes a nice complement to the copies of Cosmo in the checkout lane.) Even when the lyrics aren't explicit, they include an almost never-ending stream of glorification of fornication, including such charming ditties as "Come On Over Tonight." (I can't help smiling wryly at the line in that one, "If it don't feel right, you can go." That's nice. "Look, Ma, no date rape!") In the evenings, whoever gets to choose the music often chooses hip-hop, so we get to listen to animalistic noises. During the day, a drawback of the so-called "oldies" station is that you can hear every word.

So, I have some questions for all the people who are posting or getting ready to post their yearly gripe about Christmas music in the stores: Why are you complaining about the one month out of the year when your local store plays "White Christmas" when you never uttered a peep about the eleven months out of the year when your local store was playing "Do That To Me One More Time" and "Undercover Angel"? Did all the real trash you've been hearing at other times go in one ear and out the other? Or do you actually prefer soft pornography to Christmas schmaltz?

Sure, there are suggestive Christmas songs as well, or so I'm told. (So far, I've been spared listening to them.) But let's face it: That isn't primarily what gets the complaints, and when it does, it's part of a larger diatribe about too much Christmas music, too contentless, too early, shouldn't be played during Advent, etc. For the most part, the "holiday season" is in musical terms quite an improvement both in the wholesomeness of the lyrics and, believe it or not, in the niceness of the music. I caught myself twice this morning thinking, as an intro. started up, "That's really pretty." The fact that it was an instrumental lead-in to a Christmas song that I'll have to hear five hundred times over the next month didn't change the fact that it was a big improvement over the second-rate rock I usually have to listen to. (No, I'm not an anti-rock hater. Remember me, the person who put up a positive post about "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog"?)

Please take as read all the concessions about the fact that Christmas music is played for too long, that it is more repetitious than at other times of year, to the point that it must be something near torture for the employees before all is done, that some of the songs ("Here Comes Santa Claus," etc.) are utterly trivial and lacking in artistic merit. I acknowledge all of that freely. However: If the stores followed the same pattern in terms of genre and Wholesomeness Quotient for the rest of the year, we'd be listening to Cole Porter and the Andrews Sisters most of the time, with an occasional daring foray into the Temptations--perhaps "My Girl." And that would be, I submit, a change for the better.

So we should count our blessings. We get to listen to Christmas music until December 25th.


William Luse said...

I try to get going on the Christmas music as early as possible so as to give my normal state of cynical cultural despair an uplift. If I have to suffer through many renditions of Frosty the Snowmans, so be it.

"Mouthwash for the brain." That's a good one.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yeah, exactly. And it's also the only time of year when one occasionally will hear an explicitly Christian song in the public space. "O Holy Night," for example.

Now, where I do begrudge it a bit is on the Christian radio station I listen to, because on that station the switch to all Christmas music is to some extent not an improvement. Their regular fare is, on average, better than the jingly secular Christmas music which they now include, and they could just stick to their regular Christian gospel music for, say, another three weeks or so before kicking into 24-7 Christmas mode.

Bruce said...

Down here (I live near Mr. Luse) I don’t hear any music at all in the stores. The worst problem in our stores is the things you see. The smut magazines at the checkout counter as you mention. But the worst thing is the large displays starting in September for Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Night” which features things like rotting zombies. Looking at them makes you literally physically ill. Sometimes I want to go berserk and just destroy their displays but I don’t want to go to jail.

We shop at a German-owned store (U.S. headquarters in Batavia IL) called Aldi. They have great prices, they don’t have any magazines, Halloween Horror Nights advertisements,etc. and they might be Christian owned (don’t know this but, for example, their egg cartons have Bible verses written on them).

Bruce said...

An unrelated tangent here but I’ve been to two different Anglican Church thrift stores (my Church included) that were selling videocassettes of really horrible movies like Silence of the Lambs. In the more recent case, it’s on the table in the fellowship hall with a bunch of books that are for sale where the proceeds go to a Ugandan sister Church. It seems dirty to me to let God’s Church to profit off something like that. No one gets it. Am I just a pietist prude??

Lydia McGrew said...

You don't have music in the stores? Wow. I didn't know there were any stores anywhere in the U.S. without music. That sounds refreshing.

I definitely know what you mean about the things you see. Halloween has become extremely "dark" in recent years. A few years ago I had a neighbor, fortunately not on our own street but a few streets over, who used to hang up extremely realistic-looking plastic severed human feet and such over a table with knives on his front lawn through the entire month of October. I don't know if he does so anymore, because I stopped walking that way with the children. One year I actually went and tried to explain to him that this was a problem, but I received an incomprehensible growl and injunction to get the hell off his property or something like that, so I dropped the matter.

I can remember dressing up as a little shepherd for Halloween one year with my brother and hearing my parents tell about how the man at one door said, "Oh, no, the Arabs are coming!" (And that tells you how old I am.) It was really innocent. Not anymore.

No, you're not a prude. Especially at Christian sales, such products should not be available. It sounds to me like they're just taking whatever people donate to them to sell and selling it.

Bruce B. said...

I should say that I only go into grocery stores, Wal-Mart (when I have to) and, very rarely, Target. We buy clothes at thrift stores, consignment stores and online. I never go into the malls.
Our neighbors three houses down are Wiccans. They have a large Halloween maze filled with horror props that is very popular in our community. A couple of years ago, the mother was on the front page of the local community newspaper with a bloody white smock and a fake severed head. They celebrate Yule. I was talking with their 10 year old last weekend. He literally substitutes “Yule” for “Christmas” in everything. For example “we get such and such for Yule presents”, we put up our Yule tree”, my sister gets “Yule” money. I am serious. The word “Christmas” has been eliminated from this child’s vocabulary.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, I'm talking about grocery stores. Around here they all have music.

A Wiccan with a severed head? I thought Wiccans were into non-violence and stuff...Guess not so much.

Your deprived neighbor boy reminds me of another point that fits with the main post: There really is a war on Christmas. "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" is annoying, but there is something to be said for continuing to celebrate Christmas and acknowledging it in the public square. Sometimes I think that all the people who say, "I'd rather have nothing than have x" (such as "I'd rather have no public recognition of Christmas than have it so commercialized") don't really know what they are asking for. Would they really like a post-Christian society in which "Christmas" is a dirty word? I doubt it. At least, I hope not.

Bruce B. said...

BTW, I just went to your main webpage. Coincidently, YOur church has the same name as mine. Exactly the same name (but mine's ACA).

Beth Impson said...

I love Christmas music and can hardly get enough of it. I started playing it in my office as soon as we got back from break and my students can just suffer when they come in to talk to me!

I have 6 or 8 albums on iTunes and play them on my computer; some are instrumental, some with the lyrics. Dulcimer, orchestra, Celtic, choir, etc. so lots of variety in style. And I am not all averse to Christmas music in July or any other time. :)

William Luse said...

I heard O Holy Night in the 7-11 last night.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Beth. I need to fire up the Handel.

Bill, exactly! :-)