5th Day of Christmas Grab Bag

Get yourself in a pickle? The Introit for the Third Sunday of Advent begins, “Rejoice, the Lord is nigh.”

glad tidings to you and gherkin


4th Day of Christmas Grab Bag

Today’s is a more serious post. It’s the end of the second week of Advent. For some, this second week focuses on peace. Thinking about that, I wrote these thoughts earlier in the week.

The Mormons have an annual Light the World campaign this time of year with ways of adding goodness to your life and those in it leading up the Christmas. The guiding phrase for Dec. 8 [when I wrote this] is from the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”

I’ve been thinking about this today. Just as we should love our enemies, we should be wise about knowing who they are. Some people deliberately hurt, snub, criticize, or take advantage of us. A few actually pursue evil and fully intend to harm others. I think these people are the vast minority.

I have friends and family on both sides of the political spectrum, even extreme sides. In the past week alone, I have seen friends and family both lament and celebrate various political positions. I have my own opinion about each of these issues, but I respect and admire every single person I’m thinking of who has posted these things on both sides. In my estimation, they’re really good people–and I think I’m a decent judge of character.

A favorite mentor often says, “We all live complicated lives.” It’s true. Everyone I know is navigating all kinds of nuance, complexities, challenges, and unique situations. Us vs. them rhetoric flattens these complications and makes it easier to see people as enemies. Take, for example the so-called War on Christmas. Some would have us think that this is an actual war. I can’t speak for others’ experience, but I have been wished “Merry Christmas” by more people in the sometimes-perceived Babylon that is New York City than anywhere else in my life. On top of that, I’ve been wished “Merry Christmas” here by so many who aren’t Christian. New York City decks OUT. I mean, it really celebrates, and not only in commercialism. I confess that I was surprised to find, in my first Christmas season in the city, that the famous Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall culminated with a live nativity scene (including real camels–which was probably my favorite part of the whole thing). In NYC, the most liberal place I have lived, I simply haven’t found this alleged War on Christmas (nor have I found it in Chicago, London, LA, etc.).

Rockefeller tree

I have, however, come across a War on Christmas in my studies. In the middle of the 17th-century, the Puritans were gathering power in England’s Parliament and fighting against the king, Charles I, wanting, among other things, a purer form of religion. These are the Puritans from the same era and related movements that brought the Mayflower to the Americas. In 1643, in response to what they saw as the excesses of religious observance, these Puritans *canceled Christmas.*

Seriously. They straight up canceled Christmas. They recognized the birth of Jesus, but they argued that it should be a very solemn, non-festive event. For all the Whos down in Whoville, er, London, etc., feasting was banned. Christmas carols were prohibited. Shops weren’t allowed to sell Christmas stuff, not even traditional foods, like turkeys. Businesses were to remain open unless Christmas fell on a Sunday. Watchers were employed to look for excess smoke from chimneys as evidence of a yule log, and they were to report those households to the authorities. In one account even snowballs were outlawed. And the poor, who were traditionally treated to food by wealthy landowners (such as figgy pudding, as the song goes), were not to receive their Christmas treats. During some Christmases in the 1640s, they even ordered everyone to fast on Christmas day, just to try to ensure there wasn’t the traditional feasting. No holly and ivy garlands. No traditional Christmas plays and performances. No singing. No Christmas festivities.


I probably don’t need to tell you that it wasn’t a popular decree, but it was part of an actual war where they beheaded the king and took over the government. Fights and riots broke out over Christmas. People snuck holiday commemorations into their lives, and for a number of years being “merry” became a defiant political act. As Christians tried to police how each other should commemorate the holiday, Christmas got weaponized, and became a major influence in the English revolution.

Love your enemies, but be wise about who they really are.


2nd Day of Christmas Grab Bag

In honor of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening tonight, I give you the annual 2017 Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar. If you’ve never seen this before, you’re in for a treat, and there are already 14 days up! Read about each image and be amazed at the universe.

And here’s today’s pun:

I have felt your presence

1st Day of Christmas Grab Bag

I’ve done the 12 Days of Christmas for years. I’m still doing it this year, but this year I’m simplifying. The truth is, I’ve got a writing deadline that means I don’t have blog posts in me at the same time this year. So posts will be short and hopefully quality. I promise that there’s at least one serious one that is longer and substantive. But most of the time it will be puns. (In addition to music and poetry, I absolutely love puns.)

For today, let’s go with brief and smile-inducing. Happy first day of Christmas!funniest-christmas-puns-daschund

12 Days of Christmas Music: 8th Day, “Hamildolph”

I often resist trends. I never read gossip magazines. I don’t really follow clothing trends. I pointedly avoided getting on the Serial podcast bandwagon until all the episodes were complete. But HamiltonHamilton is a trend I can get behind. Like most popular things I had been warily watching the hubbub about Hamilton from a comfortable distance. I’d even tried to get tickets once before it got to Broadway and gave up when all the shows in the next ten days were sold out.

But then near the end of September 2015 NPR hosted the entire soundtrack for free streaming. The day it came out, my brother-in-law, whose opinion in such matters has never steered me wrong, privately messaged me to say that I had to check it out. I had just happened to find myself stuck for at least an hour and a half at the budget airport in Frankfurt with nothing much to do and free wifi. So I figured I would give it chance at least for a few songs. Needless to say, I was happily blown away. After listening to less than 25% of the album, I knew I would finish the whole thing and listen several more times.

If you’re not into Hamilton, I first recommend that you listen to the entire thing in order before writing it off and second tell you that, although it helps, it’s really not necessary to know the show to enjoy today’s post. “Hamildolph” is a fun mashup of a few Hamilton songs with white guys (Eclipse 6) telling the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (The white guys really is a notable difference from the show where the only role played by a Caucasian was King George III.) Rudolph’s nose vies with the star marking the Christchild’s birth for the most famous light of Christmas. So enjoy, and take away this lesson from Hamilton that every once in a while something gets popular for good reason.

12 Days of Christmas Music: 7th Day, “Silver Bells”

It’s Christmastime in the city!

Photo credit by Chris Ford

Before I moved to New York City, I didn’t identify this line with any particular city, but after living there I realized, even without doing any research, that NYC had certainly been the inspiration for the song. The “strings of street lights, even stoplights blink a bright red and green / As the shoppers rush home with their treasures” lines got the song into this year’s lineup and sound like the city. Different thoroughfares are lined with matching Christmas lights, and many shops and buildings along Fifth Avenue compete for attention with their light displays. That said, I’ll admit that any city with a lot of foot traffic could also qualify.

The song does, in fact, hail from NYC. Written by the songwriting pair Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, who won three Academy Awards and have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the song “Silver Bells” was composed for the film The Lemon Drop Kid starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. The movie was filmed in the summer of 1950 and released in March 1951 and, although it wasn’t released at Christmas, it features what may have been one of the first iterations of a “Bad Santa.” Bob Hope plays a city swindler at a Florida racetrack who puts on a Santa costume to peddle for money and thereby get out of his tax problems.

After the filming, the song “Silver Bells” was first recorded by Bing Crosby and Carol Trotter in October 1950. It became so popular that Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell were called back to refilm an expanded version of the scene with the song before the film was released, shown below.

So that’s the origin of the song, but I always wondered what the silver bells were and why they signified Christmastime in the city. Turns out that it may not have had anything to do with specifically silver bells. I’ve seen Salvation Army bell ringers all my life, but the ones in NYC take it to another level. They’re plentiful and cheery and creative with their bell-ringing posts. (Watch the video I took below for an example. It’s fun.) With that as backdrop, the song was first written not as “silver bells” but as “tinkle bells.” Well, Ray Evans’ wife wisely put the kabosh on that lyric, but “tinkle bells” lead me to believe that those Salvation Army bell ringers were at least part of the original inspiration.

Soon it will be Christmas Day.