“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…just like the ones I used to know….” Bing Crosby, singer & actor
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Exactly.
One of my favorite aspects of the Christmas season is the music. Growing up, I recall the local radio station playing Christmas music solely on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That meant that we had to get out our little boom box and cassette tapes and record as much of it as possible. This served as “seed” music for the following Christmas. And boy did we wear those cassette tapes out! Today, it’s a different story. Often times I hear Christmas music playing way before Thanksgiving…and I’m not the DJ orchestrating this holiday magic! In shopping centers, restaurants, and even on the radio, the Christmas tunes are cranked up loud and proud early in the season. I don’t mind really…and then again, maybe I do.
I mind because it seems that every year (without fail) one song seems to capture the season for me. A Christmas song brain worm if you will. On good years the song is something fun and light-hearted…a sweet ditty sung by Michael Buble, Mariah Carey or even that little cutie, Justin Beiber. Other years, though, the song is something that stirs up a completely different (less cheery) feeling. I don’t necessarily want to call it darker or deeper or even more soulful (yes, I know I’m talking about music and not coffee!) There’s just something about that one song that touches the most tender part of my heart…a melody that evokes such profound emotion that it almost always manifests itself in near tears (ok, occasionally one leaks out.)
In the past, these “other” songs were always familiar Christmas tunes…but for whatever reason, they took on a new flavor. For example, a few years ago Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” could completely kill my yuletide joy. Still, that makes sense, although I love, love Elvis, the title is “Blue Christmas.” Other songs on this glum list include “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Josh Groban with its added military personnel audio (oh, the tears,) Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” with its resounding sad tale of lost love (more tears,) and need I say ANYTHING about those stupid “Christmas Shoes” by New Song? Boo hoo hoo. And then there’s the overwhelming “whoa” of “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown…just to name a few. During these years, I can’t decide whether to avoid the song completely or just play it on repeat until the feelings subside (which doesn’t work by the way.)
Today, with the onset of digital music streaming, we can customize our own playlists in a matter of minutes. This is awesome because who doesn’t like personalized stuff? A “just-for-me” anything speaks to the most narcissistic part of our brains and makes us feel important and special. I’m all down for that…I have a zillion custom playlists. So basically, my game plan is to just avoid the song altogether. (Avoidance is one of my favorite psychological strategies.) Still, there are algorithms. And try as we might, people, we cannot escape them! Now that Pandora (such a fitting name by the way) knows ALL of my Christmas music favorites (thanks to the thumbs-up-thumbs-down buttons) I am at her mercy and this year’s song has been a doozy! A Christmas classic, a favorite among favorites, such a BASIC Christmas song that it is altogether inescapable…no matter where I turn. I’m talking about the beloved holiday staple, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Yes, that’s the one breaking my heart this year (can I say that out loud?)
Who doesn’t love “White Christmas?” I mean, I absolutely adore it! It’s the best-selling Christmas song of all time! But this year, whenever I hear it a sadness ensues. It’s like I’m hearing this familiar tune with new ears. I remember the song from childhood, fell in love with it AND Bing Crosby while watching the old black & white version of Holiday Inn…and the song was further impressed upon my heart when I discovered the movie of the same title a few years later. Bing sings the song so effortlessly. As I write this I can picture him at his piano…the debonair crooner drawing us in with this perfect song. His voice so melodic and rich…all the casual sophistication of an American icon just pouring out of every single note. Did I mention that I adore this song? One can only imagine how surprised I was to find that this song, this tried and true favorite could cause me such grief. It was like walking into a door…and I never saw it coming!
Turns out that I shouldn’t be surprised at all with the heartbreaking aspect of “White Christmas.” It’s nostalgic. Wistful. There’s a sense of longing…and hope. A wartime favorite, “White Christmas” was the song American soldiers clung to following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a staple on Armed Forces Radio as soldiers tuned in while stationed overseas during World War II. For many, on the war front and at home, the lyrics told of bygone days and easier times…a reminder of a “normal” that they hoped to reclaim. For the songwriter, Irving Berlin, the lyrics were much deeper as many believe he wrote the song during a bout of extreme homesickness. Still, other music historians claim the song was actually written to memorialize Berlin’s infant son who is said to have died on Christmas Day. Given this history, the song certainly takes on a different significance and gains a depth that I wasn’t aware of before.
For these reasons (and so many more) Bing Crosby is slowly killing me…at least he is this Christmas. And while at first this slow, figurative death was limited to “White Christmas” it has moved far beyond. Now, it’s EVERY Bing Crosby Christmas song…and there’s no way to avoid it. I immediately recognize his voice and something just gets caught in my throat. My heart sinks a little. My eyes get damp in the corners. I can’t explain it. I’ve been jokingly (and seriously) blaming everything on hormones lately, but really I know it’s something more. It’s me. It’s today. It’s nostalgia. It’s dreaming. It’s gratitude. It’s a brokenness. It’s hope. It’s this present time and place. It’s perfect and imperfect all at the same time. It’s Christmas…just listen.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15