Christmas miscellany

In my December 5 post I mentioned that I was considering writing a post on Stevie Wonder’s song “Someday at Christmas,” a Christmas song that I’m not ashamed to say makes me cry.  But the post I was crafting in my mind sounded a lot like the one I had just written about “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (i.e., me waxing poetic and theological about a song which I would then quote), so I decided not to bore you.  Instead, I’ll briefly mention my thoughts on that song in my list of assorted observations I’ve made so far this month about classic Christmas music and movies.

  • If you believe Jesus is going to come a second time and recreate the world as a place of peace and justice, listen to “Someday at Christmas” with that in mind.  It would only take one or two little tweaks of the lyrics to make it an eschatological song.
  • You know that bird on the Island of Misfit Toys who doesn’t fly . . . he swims?  And you know how during the end credits of Rudolph, that elf in Santa’s sleigh sends each toy down to earth with an umbrella to ensure a safe and pleasant landing?  Well, the other night my friends and I noticed that THE ELF DOESN’T GIVE THE BIRD AN UMBRELLA!  I shouted, “That bird can’t fly!” and everyone laughed, but it was a rather tragic moment for this bird lover.
  • I watch White Christmas pretty much every year, and while it’s hard to resist Bing Crosby’s smooth, warm voice and soulful blue eyes, my real White Christmas crush is Danny Kaye, so debonair when he’s dancing and awkward when he’s not, and adorable either way.*  Until last night, I had always been under the impression that Danny Kaye was an unusually tall man, mainly because his ankles always seemed to be sticking out.  But last night when I was watching White Christmas, I looked closely at that scene near the end when all the soldiers are lined up to honor General Waverley, and I noticed that DK is actually shorter than the guys on either side of him.  So I looked him up on Wikipedia this morning, and it turns out that he was 5’11”–not short by any means, but not unusually tall.  I think one reason he looks tall in White Christmas is that he’s always next to Bing Crosby, a relatively little guy at 5’7”.  But another reason–the reason Danny Kaye’s ankles always seem to be sticking out–is that he’s often wearing his pants too short in what I believe is a deliberate move to show off his awesome socks, such as the mustard yellow ones he’s wearing in the scene where he fakes a broken ankle.  He executes this sartorial maneuver long before it was cool, of course, and it’s just one of several proto-hipster clothing choices that Danny Kaye–or at least his character, Phil Davis–makes throughout the movie, including a deft use of the cardigan.

Perhaps I’ll have some more epiphanies (no holiday pun intended) while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol, Love Actually, and any other Christmas movies I may end up watching over the next week, or while listening to Christmas music, such as the instrumental “Victorian Christmas” albums I was listening to earlier or Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (not affiliated with the movie), which I’m listening to right now.  Let me know about any keen observations you may have had as well!

*Speaking of Christmas movies and crushes on now-deceased actors, can I get a witness to Jimmy Stewart’s gorgeousness in It’s a Wonderful Life?

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Born to raise the sons of earth

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate the founding of this blog (thanks for another great year, dear readers!) and–far, far more importantly–the advent and incarnation of Jesus Christ.  If you’re new to my blog, I should tell you that each December I write several posts about my favorite Christmas music, movies, experiences, etc.  This year I’m thinking of doing one on Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” but first, I want to tell you about my favorite Christmas hymn.

What’s the Christmas song you’ve known the longest–maybe one associated with your earliest memories of Christmas?  Mine is “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”  I’m pretty sure there’s a video of me singing snatches of it as a toddler.  It’s really an odd song for a little kid to be singing, because it’s full of weighty doctrine and includes some archaic language.  My understanding of it at the time must have been far from perfect.  I think A Charlie Brown Christmas was the reason I knew it.  Remember how near the end of the show the kids all stick their noses up in the air and “loo, loo, loo” to the tune (all lowering their heads and breathing at exactly the same time)?  Then during the end credits they actually sing the lyrics.

I still love “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” both for the music and for the lyrics.  The tune, by the well-known classical composer Felix Mendelssohn, is the perfect vehicle for the song’s strong message.  It’s both joyful and stately; it’s complex and wide-ranging yet very singable.  You won’t find any creative young worship leaders trying to write a new tune to this song.

And the lyrics, by Charles Wesley, are even better.  In just three verses, this song elucidates the paradox and mystery of Christmas: God, who has no beginning, was born.  The eternal Christ became a human baby named Jesus, yet he remained God at the same time.  The end of the song also tells why he came.  If you want to know what Christmas is all about, you can ask Linus and get a very good answer from the gospel of Luke, chapter 2.  You can also fast-forward to the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas and listen to this song.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King;

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;

With angelic hosts proclaim,” Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord;

Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail, th’ incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die;

Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.