This is a rare collaborative Comment of the Day, as texaggo4 and Penn combined for a fascinating discourse on the trend in Christmas holiday music and its significance in response to my December 23 post, prompted by listening to one too many renditions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause” and “Santa Baby.” It’s a wonderful job by both participants here, reinforcing my conviction that the the debates following the posts are as valuable, or more so, than the posts themselves.
First up is tex, followed by Penn’s response. Here is their combined Comment of the Day on “Remembering Christmas Music”:
Christmas only exists because of Christ. That being said, pull the religion out of the holiday and ultimately the holiday disappears and all of its associated trappings.
Christmas music has several “genres”, not classified nor exclusive:
1) Theological or religious: directly communication the story or the theology of the Incarnation.
2) Modern references to the festivals associated with the Christ-Mass.
3) Modern references to the neo-pagan Christmas folklore…Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, etc.
4) Modern references to the American folklore… Frosty the Snowman, etc
5) Modern references to the post-materialist Capitalist associations with Christmas— Christmas party songs.
6) Modern references to the post-narcissist associations with Christmas…songs about sex….
We all saw this coming…it is predictable. take the religion out of a religious holiday and you can only assume that artistic messages (songs included) pertaining to the Holiday will have less and less to do with the ethical message of the holiday until eventually, watered down, it isn’t even worth playing the secular versions of that Holiday’s music.
What are the secularists complaining about? They asked for this.
Here is Penn’s reply:
“Christmas only exists because of Christ. That being said, pull the religion out of the holiday and ultimately the holiday disappears and all of its associated trappings.”
I don’t know if it’s going to make you feel any better, Tex, but have you really discounted those ‘associated trappings’ that are connected with the older religions celebrating the winter solstice — the standing-still of the sun, the start of the season marking the return of light and life to the world? (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) Even if you don’t qualify pagan holidays as religious at all, the observance (literally) persists primarily as a time of happy, merry, joyous and all that good stuff. It’s still there, partying on its way to greeting the New Year.
In the midst of the present-day (at its worst, call it) Saturnalia –, there is a holy day, a stop-and-pray day — or a couple of hours, depending on whether you dispense the presents before the evening services or midnight Mass or wait til the next morning to get back to the fun and games. A lot of ancient Romans thought the extremes of celebration over the 12 days were disrespectful to their gods (Seneca thought the mob was out of control) but it was all of a piece then: the religion and the occasion were one.
The connection between thankfulness for the birth of a savior and hooray-for-the-returning-sunlight may be unraveling naturally. Even with all the priestly efforts of the Middle Ages, the beliefs if not the practices related to the quickening of the season persisted. They have never been very compatible, musically or in any other way.
“Christmas” is the overarching title of the time, yes. And it does encompass all six of your categories, ancient, modern and post- (I leave you to your derogations; it’s your prerogative). But I think you are wrong about the secular encroaching on the religious as far as Christmas music is concerned.
I think there’s something else going on here.
A great deal of what we’re calling the religious music – the serious stuff – is aka “classical music” and that genre is ON THE WHOLE dying out, not just Christmas songs. More every year. This music is historically attended to in seated groups for extended periods; it is primarily orchestral, requiring large spaces (preferably concert halls or cathedrals); its appreciation and performance requires a certain amount of education; and its upkeep calls for expense that we, as a society, appear to be no longer willing (or able?) to provide. A better description of what I’m saying appears here: http://johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com/2014/01/22/dead-again/
I’m just suggesting that you take what you can get out of categories 1 and 2 (and selected bits of 3) and hold tight to it. There should be enough music — and religion — to fill your Christmastimes without having to suffer the rest. The new audio technology should help preserve it. Of course, that will require detaching in your mind the part that is already detached in reality, in other words: Christ from Christmas as a whole, unless you can submerge yourself in the Octave or Twelve Days of ritual and be satisfied with that.
Personally, my playlist will be a random mix of the music I have acquired — sung and played and taken to mind — since childhood, a combination of 1 and 2, … and 7…, the last being praise for the winter weather though it only snows these days (and shovels as well) in the memories that live in the melodies.
7 thoughts on “Comments Of The Day: “Remembering Christmas Music””
Just to muddy the waters, here’s Ayn Rand on the subject of the commercialization of Christmas:
“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only “commercial greed” could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.
– See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/12/ayn-rand-on-christmas.html#sthash.21d4y2bm.dpuf
I think Ayn Rand just called Texagg ‘terribly depressed.’
Re Ayn on Christmas: an example of the stopped clock phenomenon.
Are there at least a few elements of her social philosophy that you agree with, such as maybe her take on individual rights and laissez-faire capitalism?
It’s like cherry-picking Nietzsche. So much of her philosophy is antagonistic to basic ethical principles that its not worth looking for gold among the crap. She was an awful woman who allowed a lot of awful people to rationalize awful conduct. It was a good scam, and she had her moments as a writer. That’s about all the slack I’m willing to give her.
I think a lot of people, intentionally or unintentionally, misunderstood or misapplied her take on rational self-interest and the misuse of altruism as being license to be hedonistic, selfish, immoral,lawless louts. I do recall hearing that she was a Godawful, miserable bitch in person, though.
I like all those categories, though fewer of the narcissist. I think the ‘goodwill towards man’ should apply independent of religion, most take the dark parts of the year to party and reflect. Scrooge is not a religious story, even if there are a few details.
Thank you for my third of the Christmas present, Jack. You and Texagg04 laid the groundwork and I got to run free around the construction site … that’s just to avoid a decorating-the-tree cliche.
What I really want to see is an ethics alarm for another failure of our education system: the expulsion (or at least severe sidelining) of structured music study and practice — from the curriculum of American schools, elementary schools in particular. This is the void into which, for instance, the late lamented Christmas carols have fallen. Part of the general weenieness and confusion of school + parent authority? Or the obverse of the Everybody Does It rationalization: if noone else is doing it, then it’s not important, so why should I? Or the 100% Tolerance Excuse (false parity): If we let one in, then we not only have to do it for all but we can’t wait for others to ask, we have to create the Noah’s Singles Ark ourselves — which immediately sinks the whole project: not enough time, not enough money, too big a job, no one qualified to teach it, will create problems . . . so it just won’t do at all. (and what a relief!)
/…. okay, okay… I’m going.