One of the reasons I love traveling in Europe during the first two weeks of December is that the holiday decorations have recently gone up, the Christmas markets have just opened, and people tend to have a generally positive air about them. This year was a little odd since the weather was warmer than usual, but both cities I visited, Vilnius and Berlin in particular, were well decked out in festive finery.
Oddly, though, to my American ears, was the almost complete and total uniformity of Christmas music. From my cozy hotel breakfast room in Lithuania to the five airports I transited to every Christmas market I perused in Germany, the music was nearly identical.
Bing recorded a lot of holiday music during his heyday – there must be eight or ten albums. And surely there were others of his generation who recorded holiday music, and dozens since then. But the world, it seems, has decided that Bing is the “go-to” guy for backgrounding the holiday. The three songs I heard the most were “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” “White Christmas,” and “I’ll be home for Christmas,” and the latter was the clear winner in terms of sheer repetition.
The song in question was written, not surprisingly, during World War II in honor of the troops serving overseas. At first considered too melancholy for widespread dissemination, it actually became the most requested song by military personnel. While intended for those absent from friends and family for reasons outside their control, it’s become, I think, a touchstone for many of us for whom the holiday is a struggle between the real and the ideal.
But the “all-Bing, all-the-time” musical experience I’m having this year seems to point to a deeper issue, one J and I have been chewing on and consulting about with some of our more spiritually insightful friends. There is, I think, a trend this year to consciously separate the holiday from the Holy Day, as it were. Whether because of increasing cultural and religious pluralism, fear over the next terrorist attack, fewer of the faithful in the pews, I’m not certain, but I perceive a much less CHRIST-massy Christmas.
And while on one hand I applaud this (not much of a Nativity-Santa person myself; more of a Yule Log-mistletoe gal), it doesn’t feel organic as much as it feels imposed by forces operating outside our control. Even a Grinch like myself thinks the removal of the pink tree with the Miss Kitty ornaments from a California classroom a bit over the “politically correctness” top – there is a place, after all, for flags, food, and festivals in the maintenance of culture and identity. No, this feels to me like this a year to try not to offend; to try not to be particularly noticed; to try to slink under the radar and get through the religiously and emotionally loaded season with as few scars as possible.
And so, for some reason, Bing has become the man of the hour in 2015. The lyrics allude to traditional weather and decorations, but do not burden with specific faith references. The music is gentle and poignant, and the focus is on connection and caring.
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams