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Christmas Carol

December 15, 2009
Every American know some Christmas carols (songs), right?  It’s so holy and pure and perfect, many of my wife’s friends fantasized about the western version of Christmas and choir caroling on the streets.  And snow.  One person I know at eighteen, still thought it could only snow in the western world.  And she was studying in a college!

Every year,  I would asked my students in their final exam paper which Christmas carol they like most and all the lovely songs that I know were not in the top three.  In fact, some students don’t even know what a "carol" is and asked me what that meant in class.  Perhaps you can say it’s the generation gap thing, but the top few turned out to be either "Jingle Bell" or "Grandma got run over by a reindeer".  Most (if not all) do not know the lyrics of one complete song, (although I am sure they know songs of Brittney Spears or Black Eye Peas).  All those stereotypes and images we saw on the media were not representative of what’s happening in the hearts of Americans.

When my child was two year-old, I taught her two Xmas songs (‘SC is coming to town’ & ‘Rudolph the RN reindeer’).  When she was three year-old, I taught her 10 songs.  Now she could not be bothered to memorise any because she would dig the lyrics out from the computer and sang her heart out.   But every-time one of those familiar carols is playing on the radio, it’s amazing how much she can sing along.  Yet, when we visited typical American family, even those who were christians, their kids do not sing the carols.  In fact, most don’t even know how to read if they were not in the first grade (7 or 8 year-old).  Never mind about reading, one would think the parents would teach them these beautiful songs (like the songs on sesame streets) but no.

So what is real in an American Christmas?

  1. Shopping and sales all over the country from Black Friday to the end of the year is real. 
  2. Family members got stressed out and most people gain weight and that’s real.
  3. Kids small enough believe in Santa and weather men big and small around the country and parents lie to their kids about Santa delivering their presents.
  4. Families big and small decorate their Christmas tree is real.  Hang up socks is real.  Expecting presents from you is also very real.  And kids telling Santa or their parents like it’s their birth rights is real.
  5. Kids and adult partying is real.  Grown-ups find excuses to kiss under the mistletoe.
  6. Food, food and lots of food is real.
  7. Stores and restaurants are closed on Christmas Day is real.  Who would want to eat out when tons of food is being prepared at home on that day?
  8. Charities are going out aggressively to ask for donation is very real.  Nobody is spared :  your phones will ring and either St Jude Hospital or  March of Dimes will shamelessly ask you to donate some money is real.  There is no big stores or mall that doesn’t have Salvation Army bells ringing during the Christmas season.

Christmas songs will fill the air (of the malls) and some of the radio stations.  But one or two of these were not mean for the season anyway.  For instance, "Last Christmas" by Wham! (George Michael) is played very frequently.  I love that song.  Wham! meant it to be a heart-broken song when he was dumped and hurt.  It is a sad song.  By most Americans (and radio stations) think otherwise.  They think the melody is festive.  And ‘Jingle Bell" was not meant for Christmas when it was written.  James Pierpont initally called it the "One Horse Open Sleigh" and thought he could write something for Thanksgiving because there never was a Thanksgiving song.  But now people all over think it’s a Christmas song. This kind of selection isn’t surprising, given that the Japanese uses "Auld Lang Syne" for all their graduation and convocation ceremonies.  The Scottish (and eventually all English speaking people) uses that "Old Long Song" at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Here’s something else that is really, really puzzling.  It is not uncommon for Americans to play "The Star Spangled Banner" (US Anthem) during this season too.  It’s like playing "Majulah Singapura" amongst the Chinese New Year songs during the Spring festival!  Or worse, during Christmas, in a party!  You might say, "O, it’s different culture, no big deal!"  Tell that to my respected Malaysian musician, Namewee, (Wee Meng Chee) who got jail threats from the UMNO when he sang (rapped) "Negaraku" in Taiwan.

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One Comment
  1. Vicky permalink

    My all time fave is The twelve days of Christmas, cos I succeeded in memorizing it when I was young and can\’t wait to show off now.

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