Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hark How the Bells!

Yesterday is spent. Seven hours straight on the Santa (how apt) Monica shoPromenade, braving crowds, underage retail assistants, sore feet, the hyperstimulating glut of merchandise, and finally, The Christmas Music. I was Mannheim Steamrollered. Yet, I spent it with someone I love, and despite the indisputable fact that I am, not unlike Camille, currently dying of Consumption, I was happy.

I actually love traditional Christmas carols, many of the versions fashioned into shape of Jazz standards, and even a few really modern versions, just so long as the bounce or the rock doesn't beat the melody to messy pulp. As a child in Oregon, we actually went each cold December door to door caroling, an experience rather far afield from the Yuletide in L.A. Do people still do that? At home, I think I played every last song known to God and man on the piano, and there was an annual performance/party at my instructor's home. Carols are forever tucked into my musical memory, snug and contented as a sugar-fed kid in footed pajamas, blanketed by an afghan on the sofa and the rosy light of the tree.

If white folks don't gather in song at Christmas time, then there really is a hole in our layer of the cultural cloth. Why unlike, say, the Irish, do we not sing spontaneously and in groups, at parties, in bars, or as we walk down the street together? I say white, of course, because I don't believe this holds true for many other groups, clearly more enlightened in this department. Of course, if you're a regular churchgoer, you have your hymnal, though as a child I really thought them quite dry and wooden. Then there is the Anthem at sporting events, and that's allright, potentially moving even, but it is quite difficult to sing, and is a completely expected and controlled event.

To sing or chant or pray in groups is an experience that fundamentally transforms the energy moving through your body. I dare you to contest the notion. You don't have to dip into the realm of scientific explanation to prove or disprove this, simply remember viscerally the last time you joined in; it just is. Unless you feel terribly inhibited about it, the feeling is joyful, freeing, and conjoining, bonding you to others as much as it allows you to expand into your own individual, spiritual space.

I think part of the impediment to public displays of song, sadly, is the value given to restraint in this fundamentally Protestant culture. I am the last person comfortable with any sort of behavior that disrupts another's sense of well-being, to the point that I can become quite vocal in my displeasure. If some jackass friend is telling a lewd story at the table when there is a family or elderly group dining nearby, I suffer with them. But nothing is lovelier to me than walking through a park or a city square, and seeing people singing, dancing, or playing, in whatever form, just for the sheer joy of expressing it. That is the quintessence of a holiday traditionally celebrated as a festival of Light, and in carnival style. No different from any really Godly Holiday, where the human spirit takes a deep breath, opens itself up, and shines all over the world.


unremitting mike said...

I like to see Christmas Carolers. But I would much rather see a crowd of toughs roughing up Oprah. Glad you're writing!

jt castleton said...

"steamrolled" sounds better than "steamrollered." just thought i'd point that out. if you need me, i'll be next door wassailing.