Monday, December 24, 2012

LIZ SMITH: Merry Christmas to all ...

Merry Christmas to all
by Liz Smith
MoNday, December 24, 2012

“WHAT IF there had been room at the inn?” So many people have asked this question that I don’t know who to attribute it to.

QUICK! What are the names of all of Santa’s reindeer? And what is the fallacy about them?

The names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. And there is that 20th century addition, Rudolph with his nose so bright.

The interesting thing about Santa’s reindeer is that all of them have to be female, because two professors at Edinburgh University tell us that only female reindeer have traditional antlers at this time of year.

They grow antlers in time for winter, in order to compete with other females over holes dug in the snow to reach lichens and food for offspring. Males have antlers only during the mating season in autumn but get rid of them before the Yuletide.

Otherwise, there’d be lots of quarrels in the ranks if the reindeer were male. I haven’t mentioned the names of the professors behind this canard to tradition because, honestly, such highly disillusioning facts make know-it-all professors unpopular.

You could just forget such inconvenient factoids when it comes to Christmas. But let’s get it down that the Three Wise Men are Melchior, King of Arabia ... He brought the baby Jesus gold ... Caspar, King of Tarsus. He brought the child in the manger Frankincense ... Balthazar, the King of Ethiopia. He brought Myrrh. Or so goes Matthew 2:11.

Christmas trees traditionally used to come into the house on Christmas Eve. Not a moment before, says the tree expert Jeanne McManus. But as one has to struggle with a tree for hours, I say this is impractical bunk. Get somebody to put your tree up with the lights arranged on it and pay them if necessary. This is the only way to have a happy Christmas Eve.
THIS YEAR we might give a thought to our Coptic Christian brethren in Egypt. They are having a very hard time in their country right now, in spite of being some 10 million strong and trying to celebrate their 28th day of the month, Kiahk, which will now fall on January 2. The old, imprecise Gregorian version of the calendar lost 10 days and gained others so Copts may celebrate anytime after January, fasting well before that day.
IF YOU think of the beloved song “White Christmas,” you might like to remember that it was written by a Jewish man who all but dominated the American music milieu from the '20s through the '50s. He was Irving Berlin and his song has been called “the darkest, bluest tune ever to masquerade as a Christmas carol.”

Irving wrote “White Christmas” for a revue and days had not been “merry and bright” for him and his wife. They had lost their infant son on Christmas Day in 1928.

Look up the verse, or introduction to “White Christmas.” It is a shocker to those who don’t know it. I do know it because my friend Nora Ephron always made a point of singing it for us at Christmas:

The sun is shining, the grass is green.
The oranges and palm trees sway,
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December, the 24th,
And I’m longing to be up north.

The song goes on to have the singer dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones he used to know, etc.

Some people find this song discomforting in that its merry buildup moves to a minor chord on the second half of the held note. Why should the word “bright” suddenly turn dark? This is too deep for me.

But Jerry Rosen has written an entire book about the song “White Christmas,” describing it as how “a cantor’s son from Russia takes the Christ out of Christmas and composes one of America’s favorite songs.” It’s not a carol, but just a popular song.

Well, I don’t care. I wish I could see and hear Nora sing the verse again.
THE REAL man who invented Christmas wasn’t one of the gospel writers. He was Charles Dickens with his food casseroles and his characters from Ebenezer Scrooge to Bob Cratchit, all written with vigorous cheer so as to help him get his large family out of debt.

Once Dickens had described leftover “turkey twice the size of Tiny Tim,” he dealt the goose-raising industry of England such a blow that it tanked.

Dickens was indeed The Man Who Invented Christmas and his “A Christmas Carol” rescued his career and revives holiday spirits to this day.

Odd Christmas note! We are so taken with current day princes and princesses of Great Britain that I think almost everyone has forgiven the current royals of their sins and have taken them to heart in the valuable attractive persons of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall.

Back in 1648, on December 25th, there were eight — count ‘em — eight British sovereigns still alive — all at the same time. “Schott’s Original Miscellany” lists them: Richard Cromwell ... Charles II ... James II ... William III…Mary II ... Anne ... George I ... and George II. (What a treat for paparazzi, if they’d been around back then.)

In the Atlantic colonies of the New World, the Native Americans still fought English interlopers and didn’t really welcome them. But in England they were all still bowing and scraping, working on their linen and tucking lace hankies up their sleeves.

Disgruntled colonists trickled onto the North Atlantic seaboard to take everything away from what they called “the Indians.” I doubt there was much back then in the way of celebrating at Christmas anyway, the Puritans didn’t believe in celebrating; they were almost too rigid and religious for Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all my best friends — Mary Jo McDonough, Denis Ferrara, Rachel Clark, and Diane Judge. Some don’t work here anymore but are still welcomed pals.

Contact Liz Smith here.

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