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Spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, including bioregional awareness, animism, shamanism, & no-tech DIY fun.

Xmas Crankiness December 3, 2010

Filed under: Cranky Rants,Singing — BrujaHa @ 4:43 pm
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OK, I’m about to admit to something un-PC: at the bare onset of December, I’m already sick of Xmas.

This feeling is actually not unreasonable: in some stores, the tinsel came out before Halloween! Ruddy-cheeked Santas vied for shelf space with witches and half-eaten zombie corpses. That imagery alone is enough to drive a child to future therapy.

Is this grumpiness a symptom of middle age? I remember my parents’ contrasting response to my childhood Christmas excitement: “Again? Already?!”

They admitted that the holiday just didn’t do it for them anymore like it used to. Instead of a peaceful respite in the dark of winter, it felt like work. A burden. Cards and untangling lights and decorations and frosted cookies and what on earth shall we give the mailman? And now this story is mine too. It hasn’t even started, yet I already feel exhausted and even a bit revulsed. I feel like boycotting the whole affair. Hanukkah started yesterday and that feels like a burden too. Already?! It just doesn’t feel like winter yet. Bah humbug.

And yet I love to give gifts; love the smell of balsam fir, kisses under the mistletoe, red berries on white tablecloths and their promise of feasting. I love all of this return-of-the-light celebratory stuff: my friend Burnie’s holiday glogg, all those little lights glittering on houses and trees in the earlier-darkening eve. I still tear up over Burl Ives’ voice in that patched-up Rudolph claymation movie. I’m even a sucker for some of the…

Wait, that’s it.

I know what turns me sour (besides the commercial frenzy aspect, of course that’s a given, especially now when money is tight and the planet’s in peril from overconsumption) – it’s the songs.

You can’t get away from them. Xmas muzak is everywhere you go, loud and also so familiar you can’t really ignore it; it’s laying its eggs in your head, the gestalt earworm from hell.

You know what it’s like to be hounded by a mosquito who’s set her sights on YOUR BLOOD AND NO OTHER, zzzzeeeeeeeeee!!! all night long, and no matter how hard you jam your ear down into your pillow or how far you burrow under the blankets, you can still hear it there, buzzing around, looking for an opening to get you? Christmas muzak is like that. But unfortunately you can’t swat it. It doesn’t respond to a rolled-up newspaper, although that’s not a bad idea, now that I think about it. Maybe if hordes of us ran around in these stores, howling from the madness that hideous sound instills and brandishing rolled-up newspapers to swat at their speakers, they’d get the hint.

Ah, sweet fantasy. It’s often fun in Tinaland.

On December 1, I had lunch at a Thai restaurant new to me. The food was excellent and the décor was lovely – deep red walls, tasteful tall sprays of flowers on each table, muted lighting – plus three white glittery triangular treelike objects on the front counter, surrounded by frolicking snowmen and candy canes. This I could take. But the music! Arrrgh! Solo female vocalists doing sickly sweet Xmas carols to synthesizer accompaniment do not go well with Thai food, especially when diners like me are still recovering from Thanksgiving.

Here in Sonoma County, leaves are still turning red & golden. Many are still green on the tree. The weather feels crisp, like late autumn, just after Halloween. I am not ready for this Christmas stuff.

So is it me? Am I out of sync with time? Or is time speeding up? Or is it just that the overlap for holiday dollars is really sickening? I’m worried that I’m turning into a curmudgeon before my time.

But if so, at least I’m in good company. I was delighted to find this comment by no less a figure than George Bernard Shaw:

I am sorry to have to introduce the subject of Christmas. It is an indecent subject; a cruel, gluttonous subject; a drunken, disorderly subject; a wasteful, disastrous subject; a wicked, cadging, lying, filthy, blasphemous, and demoralising subject. Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages.

Ha!  Since Xmas is not likely to go away soon, having loads of big corporate pools for breeding, maybe we should just focus here and now on changing one small thing (no, not our expectations of gift-giving – although this worthy subject might appear in a future post).

Let’s take on the songs.

Some holiday songs are truly beautiful and/or joy-inducing. In my  mind, these include Silent Night, Deck the Halls, & Lullay. These need no changing, just less secular airtime. They’re worth listening to; it’s rude to twist such beauty into passive background noise.

Others? Yikes. Have you ever listened to the whole Joy to the World? Personally, I have a hard time singing joyfully about sins and curses and nations proving righteousness. Aside from the death-of-the-old-god aspect, songs with retributive smiting in them have little to do with the return of the light (outer and inner) that is, imho, what these holidays that occur around the winter solstice are really all about.

Revisions Ho.

Here are two of my favorite postmodern carols (gleaned in 1999 from a site now long defunct):

Consumer Wonderland
By Erica Avery, 1977.  Tune: Winter Wonderland.

The TV’s on / are you watching?
Another product / that they’re hawking
one more thing you need
to make life complete
Welcome to Consumer Wonderland

In the stores / you will hear it
Pricey gifts / show holiday spirit
That’s what they call it to get to your wallet
Welcome to Consumer Wonderland

At the mall we can go out shopping
and buy lots of stuff we can’t afford
we’ll have lots of fun with our new toys
until we realize that we’re still bored

When you shop / ain’t it thrilling
until / you get the billing
the money you still owe
the stuff broke long ago
Welcome to Consumer Wonderland

The next one is dated. Feel free to change the toys to more recent greed inducers.

Carol of the Toys
By Erica Avery.  Tune: Carol of the Bells

High voices: Barbie Dream House Mickey Mouse
Beanie Babies Tamagotchis

Low voices: Too       Much       Stu-       Uff

High voices: Cabbage Patch Dolls Ninja Turtles
Super Nintendo Tickle-me-Elmo

Low voices: Too       Much       Stu-       Uff

One could also substitute alternative filk versions, such as this anthem for modern pagans by my old friend Nan Sorbets:

Have Yourself a Merry Little Solstice
By Nan Lancaster Sorbets, ~1980.   Tune: [isn’t it obvious?]

Have Yourself a Merry Little Solstice,
Let your heart be light
Someday soon
The winter will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry Saturnalia,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
Someday soon,
Our troubles will be far away…

Here we are as in olden days,
With our olden ways galore,
Christian monks came to change our ways,
Now it’s Pagan Days once more.

OMNI says the movement’s getting stronger,
Erica the Jong
Says New York will be Pagan before very long –
So sing yourself a merrie little Solstice song.

Here we are as in olden days,
Really olden days of yore
Ancient gods who are dear to us
Will appear to us once more.

Someday soon we all will rise together,
Show those Christians how:
We’ll take back our mistletoe and holly bough!
So have yourself a merry little solstice now.

Finally, the hard-core language nerds amongst you can sing an alt in Old English! Philip Chapman-Bell offers this wonderful version of a Xmas classic (reprinted here with his permission):

Hrodulf Hrandeor
by Philip Chapman-Bell

Incipit gestis Rudolphi rangifer tarandus

Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor —
Næfde þæt nieten unsciende næsðyrlas!
Glitenode and gladode godlice nosgrisele.
Ða hofberendas mid huscwordum hine gehefigodon;
Nolden þa geneatas Hrodulf næftig
To gomene hraniscum geador ætsomne.
Þa in Cristesmæsseæfne stormigum clommum,
Halga Claus þæt gemunde to him maðelode:
“Neahfreond nihteage nosubeorhtende!…
Min hroden hrædwæn gelæd ðu, Hrodulf!”
Ða gelufodon hira laddeor þa lyftflogan –
Wæs glædnes and gliwdream; hornede sum gegieddode
“Hwæt, Hrodulf readnosa hrandeor,
Brad springð þin blæd: breme eart þu!”

Hrodulf the Red-Nosed Reindeer  (Modern English translation)

Here begins the deeds of Rudolph, Tundra-Wanderer

Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer —
That beast didn’t have unshiny nostrils!
The goodly nose-cartilage glittered and glowed.
The hoof-bearers taunted him with proud words;
The comrades wouldn’t allow wretched Hrodulf
To join the reindeer games.
Then, on Christmas Eve bound in storms
Santa Claus remembered that, spoke formally to him:
“Dear night-sighted friend, nose-bright one!
You, Hrodulf, shall lead my adorned rapid-wagon!”
Then the sky-flyers praised their lead-deer —
There was gladness and music; one of the horned ones sang
“Lo, Hrodulf the red-nosed reindeer,
Your fame spreads broadly, you are renowned!”

Inspired by these creations, here follows an idea to take care of the Xmas song problem: Let’s start a rebellion by participating even more fully.

What?

Improvisational theater invites us to say “yes, and…” to any bit that’s offered. Not “no, but” but “yes, and.” Say you’re starting a skit about a couple having a tiff and you have something in mind – say, a grocery store scene — but your co-actor opens with a line about the laundry taking a long time to dry. It’s bad form to say “What? NO! You doofus, we’re not in a laundromat; I say we’re in a grocery store!” Instead, you take the offer and then turn it. “Yes, these machines sure are slow. That’s probably why this laundromat sells groceries on the side, so folks won’t die of hunger while waiting for their jeans to dry!” Then you’re open to create a whole new scene about the embarrassment of dining in your Horsie underwear, the only thing that isn’t currently in the dryer.

Back to our current real-life scenario.

Muzak is the offer? Okay.

Ms. Grinch begone.

Here’s the response:
YES. Sing along with it, loudly and lustily. That’ll show ‘em!

AND – Options:
Those who love the current songs can sing the official words. Preferably all 12 verses – that leads to surprise and delight or dismay as well, depending on what the verses say.

Or, whenever you hear a trad Xmas song that makes your teeth ache and your hair stand on end, substitute your own words. Sing softly, but with enough volume to be clearly audible to those nearby. Let ‘em hear the alternative words. Delighted laughter cures many ills; some claim it can have a positive effect against cancer, so maybe it can even combat holiday muzak.

Recent research (plus common sense observation of experience) also tells us that singing makes us feel better. No matter how we undertake it, this plot involves us actively singing. For those moments, at least our mouths will be open too far for prolonged teeth-grating to occur.

Yes, welcome Yule. It is good to remember that here in the northern hemisphere, from December 21st on, all roads lead –however slowly– to warmth and light.