Tag Archives: christmas

Christmas songs that aren’t

19 Dec

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when songs from 50-odd years ago get dusted off and Noddy Holder informs us all once again that “It’s Chriiiiiiiiiistmas!” But among these festive hits and Christmas carols, there are some that aren’t actually about Christmas at all. This is mostly because here in the northern hemisphere we associate Christmas with snow and ice and wintry pursuits, even though the chances of it snowing on any given Christmas Day are about as high as Lapwing getting to number one (although they are currently number 13 in the UK iTunes chart, which is respectable). So here are a few songs that you perhaps believed were Christmas songs, but aren’t.

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert from FreeImages

Jingle Bells

What, Jingle Bells not a Christmas song?? But find me any reference to Christmas in the lyrics. Go on, I’ll wait.

The reason you won’t find any is that this is just a song about winter frolics. Yes, it does mention a sleigh, but it’s only now that a sleigh automatically brings Santa Claus to mind. Back in the 1850s, when it was written, a sleigh was a fun way to travel in winter – with a horse, rather than nine reindeer.

Let it Snow!

Again, nothing Christmas-related in the lyrics. This song was written during a heatwave in Los Angeles as a pleasant fantasy of cooler conditions.

Baby it’s Cold Outside

You’re getting the idea now, aren’t you? This mildly creepy song is just about a cold evening, which could be anytime between November and March. It was written for a housewarming party, apparently, and was subsequently used by hosts as a hint to guests that it was time to go.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Yes, it mentions sleigh bells, but probably just the kind of sleigh from Jingle Bells, not the reindeer- propelled variety. This is (yet) another in the “it’s not Christmas, it’s just cold” category.

Ode to Joy

I’d never thought of this movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as being Christmassy at all, but apparently many people do – particularly in Japan, for some reason. My brother-in-law referred to it as Christmas music when it appeared in the soundtrack of Die Hard, but conceded that he may consider it Christmassy because it’s in his favourite Christmas-adjacent film*, rather than because there’s anything Christmassy about it in itself.

I considered including When a Child Is Born in this list, but decided against. It’s borderline. It doesn’t mention Christmas, and reading the lyrics the ‘child’ is either every child that is born (most of the verses) or a saviour who has not yet been born (the talky bridge and the last verse) rather than explicitly being the baby Jesus. But it does mention a star and says “this comes to pass”, which is very biblical sounding, so I’ll allow it.

I’d be happy to tell you which are my favourite (actual) Christmas songs. If you would like that in another post, leave a comment to that effect. Mariah Carey doesn’t make it in, I’m afraid.


* Christmas-adjacent because it is not a Christmas film. Yes, it happens at Christmas, there’s the odd Christmas-related quip and some Christmas music, but the events of the film are not contingent upon it being Christmas. John McClane could have been attending his wife’s office shindig in July and things would have panned out just the same.

Every song on Radio 1

5 Dec

Although I am demographically more of a Radio 2 listener, for the last few months I have been listening to Radio 1 every morning. This has exposed me to a great deal of modern popular music, and I have noticed some patterns. In fact, I have identified a few (a very few) categories that probably 90% of the songs fit into.

Rap/Grime/Drill/Hip-Hop (as if I know the difference)

There seems to be only one kind of song in this musical genre(s), at least among the stuff I’ve heard, and it goes like this:

I used to be very poor.

Now I am very rich.

My wealth and fame give me entry to exclusive locations, the ability to purchase expensive items, and access to many women.

I also swear a lot.

Pop

There’s more variety among the pop offering, and it’s largely divided according to relationship status.

I am in a relationship

You are very attractive.

I think about you all the time.

I enjoy having sex with you.

I am looking for a relationship

You are very attractive.

I think about you all the time.

I very much hope that we will soon be having sex.

Those songs are generally sung by men. The ladies’ response can be split into two other categories:

I don’t know what you’re waiting for.

I think I’ve made it clear I’m interested.

or

Not a chance, pal.

Now get out of my dancing space.

I am no longer in a relationship

There are two categories in this relationship status, too, and there is a pronounced gender divide.

Generally men:

I used to be in a relationship with you.

Now I am not.

The breakup was my fault / I don’t understand where I went wrong.

I am very sad and regretful.

Generally women:

I used to be in a relationship with you.

Now I am not.

The breakup was your fault and you were very foolish.

I am happy and have no regrets.

So there you have it: 90% of the songs on Radio 1 in a single blog post. This doesn’t cover weirdy indy songs where you don’t even know what they’re singing about (although often they are the men’s “no longer in a relationship” category, I think). It also doesn’t cover Christmas songs, which are starting to creep onto the Radio 1 playlist, and had already conquered Radio 2 by December 1st.

Speaking of Christmas songs, there is an utterly adorable new song about the weirdness and sadness of Christmas in 2020, our reassessment of what matters and our hope for better times. And it has a catchy chorus and a gorgeous video of Glasgow. It’s by a couple of Glasgow teachers called (collectively) Lapwing, and you can listen to here:

A game of patience

5 Dec

The inspiration for this post was my rather splendid new Christmas jumper, which you can see in the photo below. Christmas jumpers have become a bit of a thing in recent years (I know they were around before that, but they were mocked rather than mandatory) and I didn’t have one last year, so I decided to make one for this Christmas.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
Continue reading

The Scandalous Mothers of the Messiah

19 Dec

It’s Christmas time (just about) so for your delectation, ladies and gentlemen, here is a little essay I composed about Jesus’ genealogy. (No yawning at the back!) It was inspired by something in Companions on the Bethlehem Road, a book of meditations and poetry that I read every Advent. The author, Rachel Boulding, mentioned that all of the women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy were gentiles, which is quite striking, but when you look into it further, their stories were more scandalous than striking.

I originally wrote this piece for the Dangerous Woman series, which had published my piece on Arsinoe (Cleopatra’s sister), but they decided against this one – possibly because I sent it much too close to Christmas. But when you’ve got your own blog, you don’t need any notice at all to get a post up in time for Christmas.

Given the frequency with which I post, I imagine this will be my last post for the year. So merry Christmas, and have a great 2018 when it comes!

Scandalous Mothers of the Messiah

Rahab and the Spies

The very first words of the New Testament are “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The verses that follow give a list of Jesus’ ancestors going back over a thousand years. You may have heard them recited if you have ever attended a traditional Christmas service – “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob” and so on, until it’s time for the next carol.

These days, genealogy is a hot topic, with celebrities and ordinary people keen to find out about the long-forgotten ancestors that made them who they are today. However, unless you’re a real fan, you could be forgiven for simply letting the names in Matthew chapter one wash over you as you wait for the ‘real’ story. But there is a story within the genealogy, and it has to do with the five women who are named alongside the 41 generations of men.

Women don’t usually appear in Jewish genealogies; they are lists of fathers and sons. (Have a look at Ezra chapter seven in the Old Testament, for example.) So who are Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, Ruth and Mary, and what are they doing in this patrilineal list? The answer reveals that bold women crop up in the most unexpected of places, even in candlelit carol services.

Let’s start with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her story is well known, and acted out by five-year-olds each year: a simple girl who graciously accepted her part in God’s plan to save the world. Young, humble and virginal, she seems like a threat to no one. And yet, her decision took enormous courage. Jewish law said that if a girl was engaged to be married but was found not to be a virgin (and most people would take pregnancy as proof of that), she should be stoned to death. If Joseph had not accepted her child as his own, Mary faced not only shame, but possibly death. Her decision was dangerous – and world-changing.

Then there is Ruth, a foreigner who loved her Hebrew mother-in-law so much that she followed her back to Israel after they were both widowed. Hard-working and faithful, she seems like the perfect moral exemplar to feature in a list of the Messiah’s ancestors – until you look a little more closely at the story of her second marriage.

Ruth put on perfume and her best clothes, and crept into a room full of men in the middle of the night to propose marriage to one of them, slipping away home before first light. There’s nothing strictly wrong with any of that but, as in the case of Mary, it certainly looks bad. Ruth was already an outsider because of her ethnic origin, but she risked her reputation in the town that had become her home in order to provide a future not only for herself, but for the mother-in-law she loved. Once again, if her husband-to-be had been less honourable, things could have ended badly.

But this list isn’t about honourable men protecting women who take risks. Bathsheba earns her place because of King David’s far-from-honourable behaviour. Her name isn’t given in the list. The text says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”, but that brief account glosses over the fact that David and Bathsheba had already had a child together, conceived while Bathsheba still was Uriah’s wife.

It’s debatable how much choice Bathsheba had in the matter – if a woman is summoned by a libidinous king, and doesn’t want to have an affair, who can she appeal to? But however that meeting went, there’s no question that David committed adultery with Bathsheba (again, a capital offence) and then had Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover it up. None of this is mentioned in the genealogy, but Matthew’s original Jewish readers would have known all about it.

They would have known, too, about Rahab – or ‘Rahab the harlot’ as she is traditionally known. She also seems to have had a business producing cloth out of flax, but that’s not the profession she is remembered for. So much of ancient history is just hints and guesses, and we don’t know whether prostitution was acceptable in her society, or if she would have been an outcast, but of course it was not at all acceptable for women in Jewish culture.

She enters the story of Jesus’ genealogy because she took in the Hebrew men who came to spy on Jericho before attacking it; hers was a house where, naturally, strange men coming and going wouldn’t have raised suspicions. She then transferred her allegiance to the invaders, believing that God, and history, were on their side. She hid the two spies from the authorities, presumably at the risk of her own life, and bargained with them for the safety of her family. She then married a husband from the conquering Hebrew tribes (quite possibly one of the men she had protected) and became an ancestor of Jesus.

Tamar was also caught in prostitution, although the circumstances were very different. She had been married to two brothers, one after the other, but was still childless upon their deaths. Her father-in-law, Judah (the brother of Joseph, he of technicoloured dreamcoat fame) still had a third son. According to custom the remaining son should have married Tamar once he reached an appropriate age, but years went by and it was clear that Judah did not intend to give his final son to Tamar.

So Tamar took matters into her own hands. Disguising herself as a veiled prostitute, she waited on a road she knew her father-in-law would take, and he partook of her services. The ‘shrine prostitute’ kept Judah’s personal seal as a guarantee that he would send payment, but when he kept his promise, he was told there was no shrine prostitute in the area. Tamar fell pregnant and Judah, with breath-taking double standards, ordered her to be killed; but when she produced her sexual partner’s personal seal, he was forced to admit, “she is more righteous than I.” So Tamar was left to live in peace as a single mother.

What is the purpose of including these five names, attached to stories that range from the unseemly to the utterly scandalous, in a list of the ancestors of Jesus? Plenty of scholars have commented on the fact that all these women (with the exception of Mary) were gentiles – non-Jews. They emphasise the fact that the Messiah came for the sake of the whole world, since gentiles were even included in his lineage. But it’s more than that; other men on the list married foreign wives. These women are not merely included as foreigners, but also as women, and as individuals.

These are women who took risks. They are women who, by choice or by compulsion, found themselves outside the bounds of societal acceptance, but did not quail. Their place at the very start of the Christmas story challenges the sanitised, nativity-play version of the incarnation. Instead, these women point to a Messiah who would not turn away from the unacceptable, the foreign and flawed, the sinned-against and the most scandalous sinners; because these women are who he came from – but they are also who he came for.

On the Nth Day of Christmas

4 Jan

Happy New Year!

WordPress very kindly made a review of my blogging year and invited me to share it with you. However, on the assumption that a list of statistics about my blog is probably more interesting to me than to you, I’ll instead share a wee bit of poetry taken from the start of my short story collection A New Year’s Trio (available on Smashwords Amazon etc.). This is extremely rare, since I write poetry only once or twice a decade. I hope you enjoy it, but if you don’t, at least I won’t be troubling you with any more poetry for a while. 😉

On the Nth Day of Christmas

That dayless week between Christmas and New Year

When it’s all over and it hasn’t started.

Finding space for new presents and new life,

Three leaving the stable that two had entered.

A pause, a plateau, an intake of breath,

Ready for the wheel to turn again.