Archive | December 2012

Do you hear what I hear?

Do you hear what I hear 5451378Some songs resonate with us because their lyrics touch a chord in our hearts. Others impact our souls with their melodies. On rare occasions, a song will do both, and that impact often masks the writers’ original inspiration. Such is the case with the Christmas song, Do You Hear What I Hear?

Who’d have thought the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, would have inspired such a piece? During that period, Cuban Dictator, Fidel Castro feared the US would attempt to invade his small country and partnered with Nikita Khrushchev allowing the Russians to set up nuclear missiles – aimed at the US – on his shores. Although the negotiations eventually averted what historians term the closest the world ever came to nuclear war, tensions were extremely high –  not only here in the US but also around the world. The political situation prompted the husband-wife team of Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne to combine their talents to write a song expressing both their deepest desires and hope for peace.

Interestingly Noel, who usually wrote the musical score while Gloria wrote the lyrics, reversed their roles. Stirred by mothers pushing their babies in strollers along the sidewalks of New York City, he penned the words describing how the Night Wind brought the message of the baby Jesus’ birth and how it spread to the small lamb, the shepherds and eventually to the king. It went to people everywhere, and here he added his own plea – “Listen … Pray for peace, people everywhere.” Now a traditional favorite, Do You Hear What I Hear reminds us that true peace – goodness and light – only comes from that special Child, sleeping in the night.

You too can listen with greater understanding as you review the words below and hear Mannheim Steamroller’s version of this carol.

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

Jingle all the way

Bells have long been used to herald news of significance – signaling warnings, proclaiming glad tidings and calling people to gather for worship services or public meetings. Tracing their use back to earlier times, pagan cultures often used them as part of their celebrations to ward off evil spirits. As time passed, bells have found their way into celebrations for Christmas and songs of the season.

One traditional favorite is Jingle Bells, written by Lord Pierpont in 1850, copyrighted in 1857. Though originally inspired by the Salem sleigh races,* Pierpont later introduced it as a Thanksgiving song to a Georgia congregation where he served as organist. The bright melody and cheerful lyrics brought immediate popularity, and it carried over and became a standard Christmas tune.

As a quick aside, if you ever wondered what “bells on bobtail ring” were all about, they are referencing the sleigh bells that adorned the one horse whose tail had been “bobbed” or shortened to avoid becoming tangled in the reigns. People traveling on foot would not hear a sleigh traveling across the snow, especially at night, and the bells would announce the sleigh’s approach.

Although Christmas is traditionally connected with winter – in our northern climates that equates to snow – and also a heightened sense of fun and laughing, you don’t see much else in Jingle Bells that brings real Christmas meaning to the song. You could think of it as just entertaining, and that is ok. But in another sense, it offers a metaphor of hope, and perhaps that’s why it has gained seasonal popularity.

Most people enjoy watching the snow fall and relish the pristine beauty that covers the mundane and drab winter countryside. Though today thoughts move more to the interruption of life and the work involved to eradicate it. The open sleigh in our song offers an opportunity to travel across its surface and enjoy, rather than curse, the gift.  Perhaps it is good to be reminded that the snow covers even the ugliest of surfaces and transforms them into things of beauty, and isn’t that why Jesus came at Christmas?

*Check out the full lyrics using the link and you’ll understand the connection to sleigh races.

Who would tell lies about Rudolph?

In this age of commercialized Christmases, I thought it might be fun to look more deeply into some of the songs, carols and traditions of the season. I’m not sure how close any of these things will come to the real reason of the season, the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but it may prove interesting. Regardless, these traditions, real or imagined impact our lives, so let’s see where the potpourri of nostalgia leads.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer

LITTLE_GOLDEN_BOOK_RUDOLPH_THE_RED_NOSED_REINDEER_CHRISTMAS_FRONT_COVERRudolph’s prominence and popularity may make you think this red-nosed member of the deer family has been around forever, and to the children of today, he has. But in reality he did not appear until Christmas of 1939. Though one account states that Robert L. May wrote the fable to comfort his daughter, Barbara, after the death of her mother and sold the rights to Montgomery Ward Department Stores to pay off the medical bills, this is a stretch of the truth. It would make a great Hallmark movie, but if you’re looking for facts, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper – makes you wonder why someone would lie about Rudolph, but I digress.

According to Scopes, Montgomery Ward tasked May to write the story for the purpose of distributing it to children who visited Santa. As a member of their staff, the rights for the story belonged to Montgomery Ward. Writing in verse and couplets, May did test the story on his daughter to ensure of its appeal to children. Initially, Montgomery Ward compensated him only as their copywriter, but deeply in debt because of his wife’s medical bills, May negotiated with Ward’s president, Sewell Avery, to restore the copyright to him in 1947.  The key to Rudolph’s success came later when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, crafted the song made popular by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. (Today’s kids likely never heard of him, either.)

The story about the ostracized reindeer does contain a message of hope for all those kids out there who don’t travel in the popular crowds or are sought out because of skill or beauty. Rudolph had none of this, yet he had a purpose for life that would not surface until the year Santa encountered fog on Christmas Eve. This situation led to Rudolph’s discovery. As lead reindeer, his glowing nose allowed Santa to transport his sack of toys safely and deliver them to all of the good boys and girls around the world. He became a hero.

I guess this does bring us back to the real reason for the season after all. Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness for each person, regardless of their station in life, skillset or outward appearance also indicates He has a unique purpose for each one. Human beings aren’t cookie cutter creatures, and God has a plan for every one. Each one is special, yet all have a choice to follow God’s plan or their own. The story of Rudolph leaves Jesus out of Christmas, but you can gain some measure of truth from the illustration as you watch him wait for his time to shine.