Saturday, November 28, 2015


John M. Daniel’s Blog
November 28, 2015

Greetings! Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Did everybody get enough to eat? Anybody want some more sweet potatoes? Then there was so-called “Black Friday,” the busiest shopping day of the year. That’s a tradition I’ve successfully missed every year of my life. Now, as we enter the liturgical season of Advent, I turn my attention to another form of storytelling, namely song. 

And speaking of music and storytelling, don't forget to read the promotion of Mary Kiki Wilcox's book A Song Just for Me, which follows my piece.


Like most folks, I do a fair amount of shopping between Thanksgiving and Christmas, partly to buy presents for loved ones, but also for a chance to hear cornball Christmas music so dear to my heart. It’s in the air during the holiday season, along with the sound of the cash register. It seems as if every shopping center has its own public address system, used only once a year, so that by the end of a day’s shopping it’s nigh on impossible to get those Christmas songs out of our heads, and we keep hearing “Winter Wonderland,” over and over in our heads, for hours after we’ve left the scene.

Wait. “Winter Wonderland”? That’s not Christmas music. There’s no mention of Christmas in the song. Neither Christmas: the Christmas of Jesus or the Christmas of Santa. “Winter Wonderland” simply, and nicely too, celebrates snow, sleigh bells, snowmen, cozy fires, and of course love (valid all year round, if we’re lucky). So this is a song for winter, not for Christmas.

There are many standards in the American Songbook devoted to celebrating winter (most also celebrating love, meaning they celebrate the combination of winter and love). Some of these belong in anybody’s list of fine standard oldies, and they include “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Snowfall,” and “Sleigh Ride.” I could do without “Frosty the Snowman,” but we’ll have to include “Jingle Bells.” None of these songs have anything to do with Christmas.

Why do we hear these winter standards only during the late fall and first few days of winter, ending, almost screeching to a halt, right after December 25? Don’t we want to celebrate meadows of snow and cozy fires all winter long? Nope: these songs have become nothing more than merchandising tools, to be fed almost intravenously to shoppers like mood-elevating drugs, whose function is to part us from our money. It’s nice, I admit, that these songs do what they can keep us happy in what can otherwise be a stressful time. But wouldn’t it be nice to put a positive musical spin on winter all winter long?

Now you’ve got me started. Next question: why is it we never (or very, very seldom) hear genuine old-fashioned Christmas carols during the holiday season anymore? I know we can hear them at church, but for those of us who don’t go to church and get most of our music from the media—car radio, iPod, Pandora, or Muzak—whatever happened to those songs that celebrate the Nativity? The Nativity, whether you accept it as history or as folklore, is a story full of meaning. Why have the media suppressed it? Some of my favorite songs are about the Nativity story: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Away in a Manger,” and “The First Noel,” to name only a few. I was raised without church, but still our family sang these songs when I was a child, and I have loved the story as much as the melody in every one of them ever since.

So I ask: why are these sacred and semi-sacred songs being suppressed? Is this a Church-and-State issue? Are we afraid of turning off the non-Christian customers? Or has our out-of-control culture become immune to any spiritual sentiment that predates “A Charlie Brown Christmas”?

Okay. I also love, and still hear, the secular Christmas songs of old and not-so-old, such as “Deck the Halls” (old) and “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting)” (not-so-old). I’m glad to hear them, all of them, but there are a couple I miss. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Why don’t we hear these so much? Because they’re sad songs, and they don’t do the trick they’re supposed to do.

Wait, you say. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? You hear that one all the time during the shopping season, right? You think you do, but you’re hearing the happy version, the one that sings “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” (sheesh). The original lyric, the real lyric, written during World War II, is about separated families and has the line (in the same spot in the song) “Until Then We’ll Have to Muddle Through Somehow.” (Note: The original lyric, the sad one, tells a story. The feel-good new version doesn’t. Just sayin’.) Well, I’m not trying to spread gloom here, but come on. We can take it. Christmas, for all its joy, generosity, salvation, and shopping mania, can also be a sad time, and we should sing about that as well. We have a right to sing the (red and green) blues.

As long as I’m on personal rants, let me mention a secular Christmas song (a Santa song, as opposed to a Jesus song) that I do not like. “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the fat man, and I love “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” But “Here Comes Santa Claus” crosses the line into theology and it sends me through the roof: the song gets progressively pseudo-religious until the last line: “So let’s give thanks to the Lord above that Santa comes tonight.”

I hope I haven’t given the impression that I’m anti-Christmas. I even enjoy the Muzak version of Christmas. If elevators and department stores are the only places to hear some of these songs anymore, well, I’ll be there, humming along.

But on my list for Santa this year I ask for:

1. Winter songs all winter long
2. Christmas carols (Jesus songs) at Christmas
3. The original lyric for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
4. Never to hear “Here Comes Santa Claus” again.

In exchange for item number four, I would make great sacrifice. I would agree to hear “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” once a day, all Advent long.

Note: A different, longer version of this essay first appeared in Black Lamb magazine.


And now a word from our sponsor:
Recently Published by Daniel & Daniel

A Song Just for Me
Stirred by Music to Conversation and Compassion

by Mary Kiki Wilcox

ISBN 978-1-56474-556-9

96 pages, paperback, $12.00

For ordering information, click here
or phone (800) 662-8351

Mary Kiki Wilcox volunteers in the Health Center of her senior community, taking recorded music, on a CD player, to the residents in the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing Facilities. They listen together in their weekly “Mostly Music” sessions, or individually, in their rooms. The music she shares ranges from classical to popular standards and show tunes.
“I have been moved by what the residents teach me as they listen to music and then talk together,” Mary Wilcox explains. “I didn’t want to lose what was happening, nor could I be quiet about it. I want people within and outside the Health Center to know about the compassion and enthusiasm of the residents and staff and to expand others’ imagination and vision of what is possible in a health center. And so I began writing stories.…” These stories make up her new book, A Song Just for Me.
Mary’s gift of sharing has had results. Clearly the elderly, even those with dementia, respond positively to music. As the residents listen and talk together, they are moved by this activity and they are having a good time and enjoying each other. The Health Center staff have seen the positive results and have arranged for more of the residents to attend the group sessions and for Mary to take music to the rooms of those who cannot be moved.
When Mary read some of her stories at another health center, members of the staff there wanted to learn more and expressed interest in doing something similar in their facility. Mary hopes A Song Just for Me will encourage more health care professionals—service providers, caregivers, and hospice workers—to offer similar programs.
She fondly recalls an exchange with a bedridden neighbor: “How long did that Mozart concerto take to play?” the patient asked.
 “Twenty-five minutes,” Mary answered.
 “Just think, for twenty-five minutes I’ve had no pain at all.”

Mary Kiki Wilcox has a Ph.D. from Stanford University, was a teacher and principal in the San Francisco public schools, and senior education researcher at SRI International. She lives at Channing House, a senior community in Palo Alto, California. 


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for December’s 99-word story submissions is December First. That’s this week, folks! The stories will appear on my blog post for December 12.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Write a Christmas (or seasonal) story in 99 words, with the following first line: “I promised my parents I would never tell this to anyone.” If you follow the rules, your story will appear on this blog December 12.


Thank you for tuning in. I hope you’ll be back next week. Meanwhile, may you find joy in reading and/or writing stories!


  1. John, thanks for the memory of righteous old songs that causes one to reflect during the Christmas season

    1. Thank you, Augie. How nice to hear from you! Have a happy, melodious Holiday Season!

  2. A wonderful take on the holiday songs. I gave a copy to my brother, the musician, and my cousin, also a musician, asked me to send it. I printed it out and will share your words and thoughts with friends and colleagues.

    1. Glad you liked it, Eileen, and thanks for sharing it with others. Enjoy the holidays ahead1