Forget Christmas good cheer. I stood in the Kroger cheese shop on Tom Hill Boulevard in Macon, flinging pepperoni on pizzas. I was a teenager and not in a good mood.
The music didn’t help. The same Christmas songs looped through the store speakers. I began to hate those songs. I felt stuck in a type of purgatory, where Paul McCartney tormented me with “Simply having a wonderful Christmas times” roughly eight times a day.
I love the Beatles, but McCartney should be called out for his contribution to Christmas retail employee misery. And whenever I go into a store during the holiday season and hear those songs, which are meant to put us all in a shopping frame of mind, I think of those who are on the clock. There’s something about being captive to other people’s music for hours at a time that is hard to take.
“I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” is one thing in a small dose. It’s quite another if it’s the tenth time he’s crooned to you that day.
“Bah humbug, Bing. I’m making pizzas and sick of you in my ear.”
Of course, I wasn’t always filled with such angst about Christmas songs. I remember the feelings I had as a kid when I heard the classic holiday tunes. I remember Santa and cookies and milk on the table and the thought of “Jingle Bells.” It wasn’t just a song, but something that made me think of Santa’s real sleigh, which was on its way. If I could keep my eyes open somehow, perhaps I could hear. And I remember running into the living room one year asking my parents if they heard what I heard. It had to be Santa.
I think back to my very brief stab at learning how to play the piano. I remember my shaky hands hitting the keys in front of the church. “Silent Night” has never been played more slowly. I’m pretty sure there’s no ugly augmented fourth in it either.
Later, I remember standing on the school bleachers and belting out “Good King Wenceslas” with my classmates. That has to be one of the ugliest Christmas songs. But it sticks to me in a terrible way. Even now, it will come back on me at times, like when I’m cutting the grass in the summer and I find myself humming it.
Those songs stay with us.
And on Sunday evening, I sat and watched my little girl with a halo on her head and angel wings on her back. She stood with a little boy and sang “Silent Night” in a church Christmas program. It’s the type of image burnt long-term in your brain and you know it when it’s happening that it’s both profound and fleeting. Her baby brother was a lost sheep wondering about with his sheep ears.
I think of her early version of “Silent Night,” how she finished it with “Sleep in heavenly please,” instead of “peace.” I kind of hated for her to learn the right way, since the wrong way seemed pretty poetic.
Of course, she loves many other Christmas songs, too. “Jingle Bell Rock” is clearly her favorite. And she’ll sing that in the car with a lot of enthusiasm. We go through the catalogue of songs. And I twist the lyrics all the time, sometimes getting reactions of annoyance, sometimes laughter.
It’s interesting how the same Christmas songs feel differently at different times in our lives. I guess that’s true with Christmas itself. It comes back to us over and over again, always a taste of sameness, always a taste of difference.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.