Commentary: Holiday songs to fill your days with fa la la

The Miami HeraldDecember 25, 2011 

Originally published December 1, 2002

Let's all get into the Holiday Spirit, as expressed by the festive song heard so very often on the radio at this time of year: Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock! Jingle bell . . .BANG.

That was the festive sound of the radio being struck with a hammer by reader Sarah Frates, who writes to say she is sick of Jingle Bell Rock. She also states that her husband, Ralph, is not a big fan of The Little Drummer Boy.

I am with Ralph on that. Oh, sure, The Little Drummer Boy is a beautiful song, for maybe the first 35 minutes. But eventually it gets on your nerves, those voices shrieking "Rum-pa-pa-pum!"

For openers, drums do not go "Rum-pa-pa-pum." Drums go "Rat-a-tat-tat." Also, I have issues with the line from The Little Drummer Boy that goes: "The ox and lamb kept time."

Really? How? Did they clack their hooves together, castanet-style? Did they dance? Are we supposed to believe that two barnyard animals with legume-level IQs spontaneously started doing the macarena?

I'll tell you this: If I were taking care of a newborn baby, and somebody came around whacking on a drum, that person would find himself at the emergency room having his drumsticks surgically removed from his rum-pa-pa-pum, if you know what I mean.

Speaking of Christmas songs we maybe could do without, perhaps this has happened to you: You're throwing a Christmas party, and you start singing carols, and everyone's having a festive time because you are doing songs with easy-to-remember words, such as "fa, " "la" and "la."

But then, invariably, some guest, not thinking it through, launches into The Twelve Days of Christmas. The singers gamely struggle through the gold rings, maybe even the geese a-laying. But then things start to go horribly wrong. Because in these hectic times, when everybody must remember an ATM code and 143 computer passwords, nobody has the brain capacity to remember what my true love gave to me on all Twelve Days of Christmas. Some people are singing about lords a-prancing; others are singing about pipers leaping; and others are going with "fa la la."

The song lurches forward like a bus with transmission trouble until, somewhere around the 10th day ("10 milkers weeping") it shudders to a pathetic halt. Then, inevitably, some eggnog-fueled moron starts singing The Little Drummer Boy, and your party is OVER.

Don't get me wrong: I love Christmas songs, and I'm glad there are so many good ones. My wife, who is Jewish, laments the fact that there is basically only one Hanukkah song, The Dreidel Song, which mostly consists of shouting "Dreidel! Dreidel! Dreidel!" ("Dreidel" is Hebrew for "Rum-pa-pa-pum.") At our house, when we celebrate Hanukkah (we celebrate every religious holiday in our house, including Elvis' birthday), we try hard to create a festive musical mood. "Let's sing The Dreidel Song!" we say, and then we launch into "Dreidel! Dreidel! Dreidel!" The song consumes maybe a minute. When it's done, we sit around, looking at each other hopefully, until finally the tension becomes unbearable, and someone says: "Let's sing The Dreidel Song again!" By nightfall we are exhausted.

To rectify the holiday-song imbalance, maybe those of us who grew up in the Christian tradition could offer our Jewish brethren and sistren, as a gift, some of our traditional holiday songs. For example, we could offer Frosty the Snowman, which as far as I can tell has nothing to do with Christmas anyway, unless there's a New Testament chapter that I overlooked ("And lo, the three wise men DID maketh a man from snow, and one of them DID findeth an old silk hat, and he saideth, 'Hey! I gotteth an idea!' And . . .").

Speaking of the wise men: How many of you readers, when you hear the words "We three kings of Orient are, " even if you are attending a somber worship service, find that your brain automatically responds with, "smoking on a rubber cigar"? Me, too. It's like at weddings, when the organist plays "Here comes the bride, " and everybody's brain, including the groom's, automatically responds: "Big, fat and wide."

But that is not my point. Clearly, I have no point. I just want to wish you a happy holiday season, and remind you that this is a time when we are loving and forgiving and not easily offended by newspaper columns. May your days be merry and bright; may Jack Frost not nip too hard at your nose; may you be blessed with a big old bowl of figgy pudding; and - above all - may you truly understand the meaning of the words that have been a beacon of hope to humanity for thousands of years: "Thumpety thump thump; thumpety thump thump; look at Frosty go."

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