Quick! On the eighth day of Christmas were the maids a milking, lords a leaping or was someone doing something with figgy pudding?
Answer: It doesn’t matter. No two people have sung The 12 Days of Christmas entirely the same way. Ever. So where some see maids a milking, others swear it’s lords a leaping, and no one but the English (who make a lifestyle out of eating the parts of things that anyone with taste throws out) understand what figgy pudding is.
You can ask any adult American to name their favorite holiday song and they will immediately rattle off the title of one of the many old chestnuts (sometimes roasting over an open fire) that make up our beloved repertoire of seasonal music.
Yet, if you ask them to sing that “favorite” song all the way through, they’ll trail off embarrassed and, if they’re smart, change their vote to “that one with the barking dogs.”
On (tone) deaf ears. I’m not talking about being able to confidently strut your stuff in the opening bars of Deck the Halls with the built-in safety net of fa-la-la-la-la-ing to see you through.
I am speaking of the ability to know, in your heart without a shadow of a doubt, that you could make it all the way through a really tough one like I’ll Be Home for Christmas, There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays or Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire without finding yourself stranded and mumbling by the second verse.
Even the simplest holiday song that we were seemingly BORN knowing can, in actuality, trip us up.
Santa Claus is coming to town right? And he knows when you are sleeping, knows when you’re awake, knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake?
And what else? That’s right… just off the top of your head what ELSE does Santa know as he’s riding into town preparing to stalk innocent little children?
You don’t know because I don’t know and NONE of us know, unless we are actually singing along with the song at the time, in which case we mumble during the tough parts to conceal our own ignorance and thus still don’t honestly know.
Which is why even in more contemporary seasonal songs where, presumably, we could track down the writer and just ASK him or her what exactly the point was, we still sing like this: “Rockin’ around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop, everyone dancing merrily, every something, something, stop! Rockin’ around the Christmas tree at the hmmmm mmm mmm mmm mmm … hey, um, we’re out of Chex mix over here!”
Or why The Little Drummer Boy when sung in a group, often sounds like a chorus of mumbles punctuated by lusty “rum pa pum pums!”
Caroling controversy. Finally, there are the saddest and most desperate of caroling cases.
The seasonal songs steeped in controversy, begging the age old question: Is the horse referenced in Jingle Bells named Bob ala’ “bells on Bob’s tail ring …” as some insist?
Or is it a reference to the “bobbed” tail of a draft horse ala’ “bells on bobbed tail ring …”?
I know where I stand on this hotbed issue, but I’m not willing to risk the onslaught of negative e-mail to go public.
More importantly, can baby boomers ever be forgiven, under the statute of seasonal limitations, for the mid-1960s coining of the alternate version of Jingle Bells that, to this day, causes anyone over a certain age to instantly hear: “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg …”
Regardless of your stance on chestnuts, tails and puddings of questionable origin, as we wallow in the joys of the holidays I suggest we work out a caroling compromise. When it comes to songs of the season, you sing a few bars and I’ll hum it.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt loves to mumble along to We Need a Little Christmas Now despite not knowing many, if any, of the words. She welcomes reader mail c/o P.O. Box 39, Salem, OH 44460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)