Old age is ruining me, and I can’t do a thing about it. It’s even beginning to affect my holiday spirit — specifically, my love of Christmas carols.
I was always a big fan of Christmas music, going back to when I was old enough to gum out the words to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Hearing Christmas carols as a kid was a sign the big day was on its way. The closer we got to Christmas, the louder we kids sang. We didn’t care if we knew the lyrics. We just thought “Round John Virgin” was the chubby guy in the Nativity scene. We had no idea why Santa was making a list of chicken and rice. We just wanted Christmas to get here, and we were convinced more volume would do the trick.
Those songs are part of every yuletide tradition, right along with knowing that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. (And every time you break an ornament, an angel bursts into flames. Or was that just with my brothers and me?)
But now? My advancing age is starting to interfere with my love of those songs. Maybe it has to do with hearing so many different versions of the classics. Maybe it’s a sign of living this long (or a Grinch hidden inside me) but I’ve learned that there are really only about 20 or so true Christmas carols — and eleventy billion versions of each. Any recording star with an album to his or her credit will put out a Christmas album, clearly hoping to capitalize on whatever popularity may exist at that time.
By the second week of hearing the same stuff over … and over … and over … I’m ready to shoot some reindeer.
Worse for us old farts, we’ve been around long enough that the songs carry the worst kinds of word association. Anyone who’s raised children can attest that a “Silent Night” usually means the little brats are into something they shouldn’t be. Same with “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I ain’t talking about the night wind to the little lamb. I’m talking about that crash I just heard coming from my daughters’ room.
I also stopped “dreaming … of a white … Christmas” the first time I had to drive through one. Ol’ Bing sure praised the “treetops glistening” and the “children listening,” but I noticed he neglected to mention those overpasses also glistening — with ice. Maybe I wouldn’t have slid off the highway that night if he’d offered a little reminder. I spent the rest of my evening “Walking through a Winter Wonderland.” Gone away was the bluebird, ’cause I was so mad I’d have thrown rocks at it.
I used to love hearing my dad singing “O Christmas Tree.” Such a pretty song.
’Til you start hooking up the lights on that sucker. One goes out, they all go out. One part blinks while the other part just stares back at you. If you happen to get the lights functioning, the tree will start leaning like the town drunk. Those “boughs so green in summertime” now sag to the floor every time we add an ornament. I’ve added quite a few lyrics to that song over the years, none of which are printable in a family publication.
I always start the season with plenty of “Joy to the World.” That usually ends with the first shopping trip. I made one attempt at a Black Friday event — I took my daughter, who was dying to go shopping at 3 a.m. — and I’ll always remember watching people fighting over a DVD with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” piping over the store speakers. I watched two dudes going all “Little Drummer Boy” on each other because of a blender. They were “Pa rup a pum pum-ing” the heck out of each other. Merry Christmas. Pass me a Band-Aid.
Always thought “What Child is This?” was a beautiful song — that is, until my kids starting acting weird. Then the very same title became a daily chant for me as I wondered who the kid — the one who’d jammed a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich into my VCR — in front of me really was.
I lost my love for “Blue Christmas” after standing guard duty in sub-freezing temperatures for the Marine Corps. On Christmas Eve, no less. Every part of my body was blue, so I sure as heck didn’t feel like singing about it. That’s about the same time I decided I wanted to beat up Elvis for bragging that he’d “be home for Christmas” since I sure wasn’t. Again.
I can’t even listen to “Rudolph” any more since my days teaching ninth-graders. I gave ’em a bonus question on an exam just before the holidays, promising them points for every one of Santa’s reindeer they could name. To this day, I screw up the song’s intro, inadvertently implementing the same names I saw on those quizzes: “You know Slasher, and Crasher, and Cramper and Slixon/Vomit and Putrid, and Dunder and Plitzett …”
But the worst songs for me at my age? Anything to do with Santa. I’ve got issues with the fat dude. We parents bust our tails all year, working to save up a little Christmas money. We stay up all night on Christmas Eve putting together toys and stuffing stockings. We spend the next few months paying off those bills. Why?
So our kids can open their gifts and scream, “Santa is so AWESOME!”
Not to mention having one of the little brats mention they saw Mommy and Santa making out underneath the mistletoe last night.
Meet me in an alley somewhere, Fat Boy. I’ll be doing some rockin’ around your Christmas tree … with big rocks. All you’ll need next Christmas is your two front teeth.
And with the sequel craze going full-blast in the movie industry, I fully expect “The Second Noel” any time now. It’ll tick me off when it happens.
I’ve had past relationships end because I took “All I Want for Christmas is You” to its literal level. That’s all I got ’em. Me. They should have added another verse detailing everything else they preferred. “All I want for Christmas is you … and a ring and a necklace and new shoes … and … and …” After screwing up those holidays, baby, it was cold outside … and inside.
It’s sad. The cynicism that arrives with age often drops a big snowdrift-sized pile of humbug on my Christmas spirit. I enter every season wondering if I’m finally going to become a real-life Scrooge.
And then the music starts. I’ll hear a child singing at the top of his or her lungs, and the little tyke is belting it out — the way I did when I was younger. I’ll hear my wife humming, or hear some bells, or even hear an old favorite on the radio — performed by the original artist, the way I first heard it — and I forget why I didn’t want to hear the songs any more. I’ll dig out my old copy of Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and I’ll sing it loud enough to make sure the whole neighborhood hears the shepherd boy (and me) singing to the mighty king.
By then, what I hear is what I always heard before I forgot why I loved those songs. They make me happy again. I get a much-needed transfusion of Christmas spirit.
Even better, they make me feel more like the kid I was than the old grouch I’ve become. It’s almost enough to make me want to forgive Santa for smooching my lady.