Popular Culture 20121221: Christmas Songs

I apologize for not being around much lately, but I have been busy doing Christmas baking and sorting out some personal issues.  Monday I shipped off two boxes of goodies, one to the former Mrs. Translator for her and the two sons that will be able to spend time with her for the holidays, and the other to Eldest Son and his bride who are unable to come home for Christmas.

Contents included Black Walnut/Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Hickory Nut/Cream Cheese Pound Cake, Apricot Bread, Black Walnut/White “Chocolate” Chip Toll House Cookies, and of course Lizzies, a family Christmas tradition.  I got word from both of them that they each got their goodies in good condition on Wednesday.  Hat tip to the USPS for providing excellent service and a very good price with Priority Mail.

There are some really good seasonal songs playing these days, and I shall share some of them with you tonight.  Most of them are from my childhood, and many of them are from Goodyear’s Great Songs of Christmas, Volume 5 from 1965, so I would have been eight at the time.  I rooted around through my vinyl and alas no longer have the record.  Others are from different sources.

There are literally thousands of Christmas songs, some religious and some secular.  Along with those, there are lots of holiday season songs that have no reference to Christmas per se, but are still traditional for the season.  Here is a small sampling of some of the ones with which I liked when I was a child.

During the Christmas season my mum would play Christmas music all of the time whilst we decorated the house and tree, and when she was doing the traditional Christmas goodie baking (which, as I mentioned, is now my duty) and wrapping gifts.  That woman could wrap!  Last evening my friend and I wrapped gifts for her family at her house and placed them under the tree.  Now if she can just keep her little girl out of them until Tuesday morning all will be well!

Before we get to the videos, I have some recollections of songs that were often sung at my church, Hackett United Methodist in Hackett, Arkansas.  When I was really little, the hymnal that we used was the Cokesbury one, of ancient edition.  They were so old that they were falling apart, and even had the shaped notes that were popular many decades ago.  Later we got new United Methodist ones, but they had most of the songs in common.

Songs that our church sang included “Silent Night”, “It Came upon a Midnight Clear”, “O Come, all Ye Faithful”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Harlk, the Herald Angels Sing”, “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”, and several others.  Here are a couple of fun facts about a couple of them.

“Silent Night” was an emergency song.  It turns out that, at least to the most popular legend, mice had eaten through the leather bellows for the pipe organ at the church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg in Austria in 1818.  The lyrics, already written by one Father Mohr were given to Franz Gruber for him to write the music.  Since the only instrument available was Mohr’s guitar, Gruber kept the music simple.  Or at least that is how this possibly apocryphal story goes.  As far as I can tell, there is no contemporaneous historical record of it.

As for “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”, (often titled, incorrectly, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”), we have to look at how English used to work.  At the time (mid 1700s), one of the meanings of “to rest” was “to make” or “to keep”.  Thus, wishing someone to rest merry literally means to for them to stay or to become happy.  We tend to think of “merry” in the song as an adjective describing the gentlemen, but it is not, but rather part of an idiom of the time describing the desired state of being of the gentlemen, not that they were merry in the first place.  In modern English, the meaning is more like “Let God allow you to rest, merry gentlemen.”  By the way, “ye” is just improper usage.  “Ye” is the subjective plural for “thou”, the old and now almost obsolete familiar form of “you”.  In those days, the objective form of “ye” was “you”, just like it is the objective form of “you” in modern usage.  No educated person of the time would have made that error.  It is thought that the “ye” was substituted later, perhaps to make the song seem more ancient.

Now, in “O Come, all Ye Faithful”, the usage is correct.  A modern translation of the title would be “You who are faithful, come one and all”.  Well, it is correct if translated that way.  However, if one uses a more likely translation, it would be “All of you who are faithful, come”.  That puts “you” as the object of the preposition “of”, and so thus “ye” would be incorrect.  We use the implied “of” all the time.  I just did it as an example, because “all the time” is actually shorthand (shorttounge?) for “all of the time”.  English is truly a wonderful, complex, and difficult language!

Back in the 1960s when you thought of popular culture and Christmas, Andy Williams came to mind first.  He and his wife, Claudette Longet, had Christmas specials for many years and my family would always watch them.  Mr. Williams departed this realm this year on 25 September, and Ms. Longet is still with us.

Here he is miming “O Holy Night” on one his Christmas specials.  It sounds to be the identical recording from the aforementioned album.  

One of my favorite songs from that album is the Maurice Chevalier rendition of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”.  From the sound of his voice he was fairly old when it was recorded, but it has a simple charm that I really like:

One of the classic Christmas songs is the Irving Berlin piece, “White Christmas”.  Of course, Bing Crosby made the song famous in the motion picture Holiday Inn from 1954.  Regardless of what the You Tube line says, the film was made in 1954, not 1942.  I do not have an embed for it, but here is a link.

Speaking of Bing Crosby, here is a very strange number of him performing “Little Drummer Boy” with, of all people, a 30 year old David Bowie!  Who would have thought that those two would have ever recorded anything together?  By the way, Crosby died in October of 1977 before the Christmas special, his last, was aired in December.  I am sure that this piece is mimed.

Back to the Goodyear album, this rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” by the celebrated operatic singer Richard Tucker is outstanding.  What most people do not know is that before he took to the opera, he was a professional cantor and that his actual name was Rivn Ticker.  No matter, this is one of the most wonderful performances of this song of which I am aware:

Tucker also did a wonderful version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” on that album as well.  I have only the link because the embed code was available only in the new format.

That about does it for me tonight.  I shall stay around for comments as long as traffic warrants.  I wish everyone a very happy Christmas, and I mean no insult to people of other faiths, or of no faith, when I say it.  I myself am not a person of faith, but I take no offense when people wish me well, regardless of the time of the year.  I truly hope that everyone understands that in my well wishes to you.  There is something about this time of year when it just seems to mean a little more, that that predates all of the major religions.  During this period around the solstice with the long nights and short days, sending a little cheer (and receiving it) seems to mean a little more.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

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  1. wonderful songs for a wonderful time of the year?

    Warmest regards,


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