The holiday season sees my kids and their friends singing versions of Christmas carols that aren’t exactly canon, as we did when we were young. You remember, “Jingle bells, Batman smells…” and “We three kings of orient are / trying to smoke a rubber cigar…” Only now I have to listen to “Dashing through the snow, on a pair of broken skiis / over the fields we go, bumping into trees / I think I broke my head, the snow is turning red…” and others of equal wit.
Today on CBC Radio I caught a bit of a history of “Go Tell it On the Mountain,” which began as a negro spiritual during the slavery era, was popular as a civil rights cry, and now finds life as a Christmas carol. It’s got a clear theme of freedom, and the documentary featured clips of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountain” speech.
Recently I saw a history of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” which explained its origins by interpreting each of the numbers as something of spiritual significance, so that the “four calling birds” are the four evangelists, the “five golden rings” represents the Pentateuch, “eight maids a-milking” are the eight beatitudes, and “eleven pipers piping” refers to the eleven faithful disciples. Snopes denies it.
I have my own Christmas carol mystery to ponder though. In 1952, Neiman Marcus commissioned a new Christmas carol to promote its Christmas card for that year. The resulting song, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by 13-year-old Tommie Connor was recorded by Jimmy Boyd and hit #1 on the Billboard charts. The Catholic church denounced the song as inappropriate to the season, mixing sex with Christmas. Boyd met with the Archdiocese to explain the song, but I don’t have any such explanation to go on, and am left wondering something that’s bothered me for years. Has the “Mommy” actually got the hots for old Saint Nick and is having an affair with the jolly elf (the joke’s on Daddy), or was the kid somewhat mistaken in what he saw, given that since there’s no Santa Claus, he actually saw his own father as Santa (the joke’s on the kid). So which is it? Am I the only one to ponder this?