Every year around this time I am inundated by Christmas carols.
On the one hand, this is not such a bad thing, all things considered. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg, and some of the songs are kind of catchy when you listen to them. Every once in a while some of my favorites get some air time as well, though not as often as I would hope. But you have to be glad for those moments when they do.
On the other hand, it does have its odd moments.
It has been years since I have been able to take “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” seriously, for example, and for this I blame Andrei Codrescu.
For those of you who did not listen to National Public Radio in the 90s, well, you missed out. Codrescu was one of their regular contributors, someone who would come on just before the top of the hour and fill the last three or four minutes before the day’s headlines. He had a deep gravelly voice, heavily accented by his native Romanian, and an even deeper sense of the absurd that was likely even more heavily accented by his native Romanian.
“There are some strange jobs in this world,” he said one time. “My friend Larry once had a job nailing Jesus to the cross. Literally. The crosses came from Bolivia and the Jesuses came from Brazil. The place he worked for, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, put them together and sold them in religious shops. He didn't feel too good about it. But a job's a job.”
I always looked forward to his stories.
One afternoon, shortly before Christmas and not long after Kim and I were married, I was sitting in our apartment not getting any work done – a surprisingly common state of affairs, really, and one of the reasons my dissertation took so long to write – when he came on the radio with a piece about how the gates of Hell had been located here on earth, according to one or another supermarket tabloid. He was particularly tickled about the fact that said gates were located in Brazil, a tropical country known in the US at that time mostly for Carnival and soccer, which were fun and therefore no doubt just the kinds of activities that would erupt near such gates. He rambled on about that for a while, parsing out the ramifications of Hell on earth being easily accessible these days and what that might mean for us as a culture, and then signed off.
At which point NPR played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” the Nanci Griffith version, with her delicate, quavering voice and the simple piano accompaniment that went with it.
The contrast still makes me laugh, even now.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, indeed.