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In these times of “political correctness” in pluralistic societies such as the US, Canada and Australia, the question of “Christmas” vs. “The Holidays” frequently comes up.
Should you do a “Christmas” show? Or would that be offensive to those who don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas?
In my experience (arguably, I live in one of the more laid-back regions of the US), this is usually a non-issue. Though Christmas is in essence a religious holiday, it has become secularized and commercialized to the point that I believe most audiences don’t care. For most of them, “Christmas songs” aren’t necessarily about the Nativity or mangers – or even about Saint Nicholas (who actually existed; the patron saint of children, he lived in what is now Turkey during the 4th Century – but I digress). They’re about memories.
Many of us I suspect associate these songs with fond childhood recollections of gaily-decorated evergreen trees, of crackling fires and wood smoke, playing in the snow (or for our Aussie friends, having a nice outdoor barbecue by the pool), the mystery and excitement of Christmas Eve, of being with friends and family.
That said, if you want to be inclusive, there are two approaches you can take. One – which I’ve taken – is to include songs about all the holidays that take place during this time of year. The two most commonly-celebrated holidays are Hanukkah and Kwaanzaa, both of which have songs associated with them. There is also the Wiccan Solstice as well as the secular humanist Festivus (23 Dec) and the Hindu Gancha Panapti (21-25 Dec).
Another approach is to select songs that don’t refer to the holidays at all. I find it surprising that a large number of “Christmas songs” that you don’t hear at any other time of year, have lyrics which don’t mention Christmas at all. In fact, these songs are simply about the winter (at least as we know it in the Northern Hemisphere). For example, did you know that Jingle Bells was actually composed for a Thanksgiving program in 1857? It only later became associated with Christmas – and the lyrics are simply about taking a sleigh ride in the snow.
Winter Wonderland is another example. Lyricist Richard Smith was inspired by the sight of a snow-covered city park in Honesdale, Pennsylvania.. I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm was introduced by Dick Powell in the 1937 film musical, On the Avenue.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside and I Love The Winter Weather are two more examples from the Great American Songbook. If you want to get bit more contemporary, there is the classic California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas, Hazy Shade of Winter by Simon and Garfunkel, Winter from the Rolling Stones and Wintertime Lovin’ by Jim Morrison of The Doors.
Personally, I don’t worry too much about it; when putting together a “Holiday” Show, I like to be eclectic, but mainly, I just want to present some entertaining songs in a tasteful manner.
Here’s a nice version of Frank Loesser’s classic wintertime song as performed by Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting in 1949.
So…what do you think? Should we be purists, pluralists – or does it really matter? Let us know down in the comments!
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Till next time,