My favorite Christmas song? It’s hard to say, but I’m going with this one.
For starters, I like the way it sounds. I like the chord progression and the melody. Two minor chords careening into each other like adolescent slam dancers, then morphing into their relative major compatriots. It’s like dreaming that you are falling, bracing yourself, and then landing gently in your bed.
Then there are the lyrics. “When the clock is striking 12, when I’m fast asleep.” When I was a kid, the late hours of the night represented mystery. A time in which the unexpected and unimaginable had parties. A place that I couldn’t at a young age reach. To me, it was a parallel to the seasonal legend of the North Pole with its elves making toys, and stables of noble flying reindeer.
But what I really love about this song is that I see it as the last stand of a name that is becoming increasingly obscure. Although our modern understanding of Santa comes from a river with many tributaries, St. Nicholas of Myra is a hefty benchmark. He was the Turkish boy saint who threw sacks of gold into the chimneys of the downtrodden. It is certainly no leap to a guy writing a blog post that the name Santa Claus is a derivative of Sinter Klass, which to my understanding is the Dutch translation of St. Nick. When I was growing up Santa Claus and St. Nicholas were synonymous, and “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” was as commonly heard as “Winter Wonderland”. Not so anymore. In fact I hardly ever hear the song unless I seek it out. I attribute this to the secularization of Christmas: the current shift is to celebrate the winter holidays without the religious connotations. I support this. I would like to be able to sing Christmas songs in public schools and say “Merry Christmas” without feeling like I’m stepping on anyone’s toes – both of which might be possible were Christmas viewed in a largely secular fashion. However, I’m also intrigued with the evolution of the holiday and of the Santa Claus character, and I hate to see us lose sight of yet another of his shaping factors. Plus, I miss hearing this song on the radio.