02 December 2009

The Dubious History of the Great American Christmas Song

Well, as usual I was totally  inspired by a podcast today.  In the case it was the unapologetically enthusiastic embrace of the folks at the Slate Culture Gabfest of Bob Dylan's Christmas Album, and the fascinating subsequent discussion of the derivation of some of our most beloved American Christmas songs.
For starters, the ubiquitous and nostalgic White Christmas, penned by Russian Jewish immigrant Israel Baline (later known as Irving Berlin) has already been sullied for me by the knowledge that the white Christmas crooner Bing Crosby used to know was in frigid Spokane, WA, my arch enemy.  If one can have a city for an arch enemy.  Which one can. 
If you have never encountered either the full version of the song or the unbearable (if only because of the blackface scene) film Holiday Inn for which it was written, you might be in for a little shock.   I first heard the whole song by Linda Ronstadt and was like, huh?
The sun is shining.
The grass is green.
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,
And I'm longing to be up north.

 Here's a line from a review of Mark Rosen's book on the subject:

Ironies, abound, of course, since a secular Christmas song written by a Jewish immigrant became the embodiment of holiday nostalgia. Further, the very selling of the idea of a more tranquil, innocent, idealized holiday past helped fuel the American commercialization of Christmas.

Couldn't have said it better myself.   And I just love it. Watch Bing in all his glory here.