Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Christmas cheer

It sometimes comes as a shock to my friends and acquaintances when they find out that even though I'm a staunch unbeliever in anything even resembling organized religion, I love Christmas music.

Well, some Christmas music.  There are modern Christmas songs that make me want to stick any available objects in my ears, even if those objects are fondue forks.  Abominations like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" leave me leery of entering any public spaces with ambient music from November 15 to December 25.  In my opinion, there should be jail time associated with writing lines like, "Little tin horns and little toy drums, rooty-toot-toot and rummy-tum-tum," and whoever wrote "Let It Snow" should be pitched, bare-ass naked, head-first into a snowdrift.

Each year I participate in something called the Little Drummer Boy Challenge, which is a contest to see if you can make it from Thanksgiving to Christmas without once hearing "The Little Drummer Boy."  So far, I'm still in the game this year, although it must be said that I've done this for nine years and have hardly ever survived.  I've never been taken out as ignominiously, though, as I was a few years ago, when I made it all the way to the week before Christmas, and stopped by a hardware store to pick some stuff up.  And while I was waiting to check out, a stock clerk walked by jauntily singing the following:

Come, they LA LA pah-rum-puh-pum-pum
A newborn LA LA LA pah-rum-puh-pum-pum
LA LA LA gifts we bring pah-rum-puh-pum-pum
LA LA before the king pah-rum-puh-pum-pum, rum-puh-pum-pum, rum-puh-pum-pum

Dude didn't even know all the damn lyrics, but I had to play fair and admit I'd been felled by the Boy one more time.  Before I could stop myself, I glared at him and said, "Are you fucking kidding me right now?" in a furious voice, which led to a significant diminishment of the Christmas cheer in the store, but I maintain to this day I had ample justification.  The alarmed stock clerk scurried off, clearly afraid that if he stuck around much longer, the Batshit Crazy Scruffy Blond Customer was going to Deck his Halls but good.

I know this makes me sound like a grumpy curmudgeon.  I can accept that, because I am a grumpy curmudgeon.  But even so, I absolutely love a lot of Christmas music.  I think "O Holy Night" is a stunning piece of music, and "Angels We Have Heard On High" is incredible fun to sing (as long as it's not sung like a dirge, but as the expression of joy consistent with the lyrics).  Speaking of doing things the right way, check out Annie Lennox's stupendous music video of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen:"

Despite the impression I probably gave at the start of this post, the list of Christmas songs I like is way longer than the list of ones I don't.  I grew up singing wonderful French carols like "Il Est NĂ©, Le Divin Enfant" and "Un Flambeau, Jeanette Isabella," and to this day hearing those songs makes me smile.

And I can include not only seasonal religious music, but religious music in general, in this discussion; one of my favorite genres of music is Renaissance and Baroque religious music, especially the works of William Byrd, Henry Purcell, J. S. Bach, William Cornysh, Giovanni de Palestrina, and Thomas Tallis.  If you want to hear something truly transcendent, listen to this incredible performance of Tallis's Spem in Alium ("Hope in Another"), a forty-part motet here sung by seven hundred people:

I know it might seem like a contradiction for a non-religious person to thoroughly enjoy such explicitly religious music, but in my opinion, beauty is beauty wherever you find it.  I can be moved to tears by Bach's Mass in B Minor without necessarily believing the story it tells.  And it also pleases me that it gives me common ground with my friends who do believe, for whom the lovely "Mary's Boy Child" isn't just a cool calypso tune, but a joyous expression of something near and dear to them.

I guess I'm a bit of a contradiction in terms sometimes, but that's okay.  I still deeply resent any attempt to force belief on others (or lack of belief, for that matter), and my anger runs deep at the damage done, and still being done, by the religious to members of the LGBTQ community.  The likelihood of my ending up back in church is minuscule at best.

Even so, I still love the holiday season.  It's a chance to give gifts and express my appreciation for my friends and family, and to enjoy the pretty decorations and sweet music.  Honestly, I think a lot of us godless heathens feel the same way, which is why I'm glad to see that this year -- so far, at least -- the Religious Right has backed off on the whole idiotic "War On Christmas" nonsense.  After all, it's been what, fifteen years or so? -- since Bill O'Reilly gave the clarion call that the Atheists Were Comin' For Your Christmas Trees, and if you'll look around you'll notice that everyone's still saying "Merry Christmas" and giving gifts and everything else just like they've always done, so the whole trope has finally fallen a little flat.  It couldn't have gone any other way, honestly.  A great many of us atheistic types are also pretty dedicated to live-and-let-live, and most of us don't care if you have Christmas displays in your front yard so bright they disrupt nearby air traffic, as long as you're not going to pull out your AR-15 when a non-believer says "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

I do, however, draw the line at piping in "The Little Drummer Boy" over mall loudspeakers.  That's just a bridge too far.  I mean, what kind of stupid song is that, anyhow?  It's about a kid who sees a mom and dad with a quietly sleeping newborn baby, and thinks, "You know what these people need?  A drum solo."

In my opinion, Mary would have been well in her rights to smack him over the head with the frankincense.  Pah-rum-puh-pum-pow, you odious little twerp.



  1. I am also way big into Christmas music, and am always on the lookout for great stuff I haven't heard of before. Are there any obscure hidden gems you can point me at?

    1. Have you heard Maddy Prior's album "A Tapestry of Carols?" There are some really lovely songs on there, and she's got a beautiful voice.

    2. I'll check it out; thanks very much! In return, allow me to point you at the two Christmas albums by the Barra MacNeils.