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Essay: Deck the Halls

Maxim Pavlov

If you make that trip out to the mall or the game store or wherever you buy your gifts, you might well be confronted by that ubiquitous phenomenon this time of year - Christmas music, played over whatever speakers are at hand.  You might think Lake Effect essayist Joanne Weintraub would be unhappy about that - but you’d be wrong:

If I were small enough to sit comfortably on Santa's lap, which I assure you I am not, I'd have only one thing on my Christmas list. It's not a toy, not even the $80,000 automotive kind that big girls and boys like. No, it's a wish.

The wish is that the people who pick out Christmas music at malls and other public places, and the other people who pick out Christmas music for TV commercials, exercise just a little taste and a little restraint.

As in, how about a little less syrup and a little more sophistication, a bit more hallelujah and a bit less ho-ho-ho? How about not starting till December 1st, so we're not sick of even the great songs before there's snow on the ground? How about I never, ever have to hear "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" again in this lifetime?

One might wonder, if one happened to know me, why does a nice Jewish girl even care? Relax, I'm not going to pull out the old chestnut about a nice Jewish boy named Irving Berlin having written the most recorded and re-recorded holiday song of all time, "White Christmas." And, speaking of chestnuts, I won't even mention that another fine Christmas song, the one that's literally called "The Christmas Song," but that most of us know as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," was written by still another nice Jewish person named Mel Torme.

None of that matters to me. What matters is that I truly love Christmas music, both the sacred and the secular, and have been singing it, playing it often delightedly listening to it since I can remember.

I joined my grade school glee club as soon as I was old enough and soon learned the second soprano parts of "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald Angles Sing," and that not quite Christmasy December classic, "Let It Snow." For six years of public junior high and high school in the largely Catholic and Jewish suburbs of New York City, I sang "The First Noel," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "The Little Drummer Boy." I even learned all the wrods to "Adeste Fideles and "O Tannenbaum" in Latin and German, respectively. For those who didn't, by the way, that's "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "O Christmas Tree."

Caroling from house to house is still on my bucket list, but I've certainly leaned against my share of pianos at my share of caroling parties. And long before cars had air conditioning, my little sister Donna and I tried to cool off on our annual August car trips by serenading our parents with "Angles We Have Heard on High," singing "Gloria in excelsis deo" at the top of our lungs. I was grateful that Donna, being an alto, was willing to take the harmony, and I'm sure my parents were grateful we were taking a break from fighting in the back seat.

Since I mentioned my least favorite Christmas song, the one involving an old woman and a certain unlikely accident, it's only right to give a shout-out to the ones I love the best.

On the secular side, it's hard to resist the melancholy yearning of "I'll be Home for Christmas." And even though it's another not-strictly-Christmas song, just one you hear a lot in December, I never get tired of "Baby It's Cold Outside." But the song that always threatens to make me burst into tears, and I mean that in a good way, is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." If you've never heard a young Judy Garland sing it to an even younger Margaret O'Brien in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis, wait until this show is over and then go directly to YouTube. I swear, I can be sitting in the waiting room of the Honda dealership as my tires are getting rotated, and if that song comes on, I hope to the herald angles I have a Kleenex handy.


As far as the sacred carols, there's a lot to choose from. I truly love "What Child Is This," the one that sounds like "Greensleeves," and of course there's a lot to be said for the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah." But for sheer seasonal joy, well, it's "Joy to the World." I'm not a godly person, but that one just makes my heart soar to the heavens.

So there's my wish. And Santa, with all due respect? Even when I was 10, I thought your signature song, "Here Comes Santa Claus," was for babies, and I still do. But I'd be happy to listen to the one about your kissing someone's Mommy anytime, even in August.

Lake Effect essayist Joanne Weintraub is the former TV critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel She’s currently a freelance writer and editor.