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Monday, December 4, 2000

Okay, I kind of overdosed on Christmas music over the last week or so. I guess it really is possible to have too much of a good thing. I came back from our Thanksgiving weekend ready to listen to every holiday CD I own (which isn't that many, but I didn't even get through them all before I moved on to the Etta James box set and the Topsy-Turvy soundtrack).

Channel 804 has been playing Christmas songs since early November, and I've listened off and on. I respect the religious foundation of the holiday, but I think it's the familiarity of the music that sears my soul, more than any elemental meaning. I can listen to "Away in a Manger" and hear the cattle lowing and see the baby sleeping in the hay, without thinking that it's anything more than a lovely story.

It's not that I don't examine my beliefs. I choose to honor the mythology without necessarily investing it with the faith I had as a child, growing up Catholic and accepting the teachings and dogma without question. What I once believed literally I now cherish lyrically.

I have an affection for world music, and much of it is incomprehensible to me. Still, it speaks with a voice that comes from the totality of a culture and expresses ways of life that will forever remain a mystery to my limited circumstance. That doesn't prevent me from enjoying it, and understanding that it means something special to people I'll never know.

If you can't listen to a gospel choir without feeling the joy welling up through the harmonies, then you've missed something remarkable, even to a nonbeliever. Music has a way of connecting heart to heart, for anyone willing to be open to the experience.

That's pretty much how I feel about "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." I get all warm and fuzzy when I hear them, and I like that feeling. Suddenly I'm eight years old again, and the world doesn't seem quite such a forbidding place.

By the way, have you heard Ted Nugent playing "Deck the Halls" on Merry Axemas, Volume 2? Killer. And the Dandy Warhols do an engaging version of "Little Drummer Boy."

Santa and TinaI'm not sure what to do about decorating this place for the season. I haven't done much in that vein for the last few years. I have some knickknacks that will look all right on the flat surfaces — Santa on top of the TV, reindeer on the tops of the speakers, snowpersons placed here and there. Somewhere, locked away in storage, is an artificial tree that I used to set up this time of year.

It seems a bit heretical to use a plastic tree out here in the country. This house is so spacious that a natural eight-foot spruce wouldn't look out of place. I'm trying to talk myself into this, but I'm also picturing myself driving up the street with one strapped to the top of my car. Every time I run this movie in my head, something disastrous happens.

What I'll probably do, what I usually do, is think about it so long that it gets to be too late to do anything about it. I'll weigh all the pros and cons, hem and haw, and decide definitely both ways. Yes, I must have a tree. No, I don't need a tree. Before long, it'll be December 26, and I'll have my answer by default.

It's a shame, isn't it, that we have to invent days that force us to come together and be kind to each other? On the other hand, it's heartening to realize that we've come up with so many of these occasions. From Valentine's Day to Thanksgiving, we have excuses all year to take a step back from the routine and look at ourselves and each other differently.

For all the faults and perversions that the Christmas season has gone through, with your drunken office parties and your Sunday ad inserts and your Gap commercials, I still love it. It makes me happy to see so many people going out of their way for others, and thinking more often about the world as one family.

So it's not a universal phenomenon. One person at a time, one day at a time. That's the only way to make the planet more livable. Anything that moves the cause forward is worth pursuing. It's not just Christmas, but any celebration of the spirit of giving.

By the way, I actually like the Gap commercials. But that's just me.

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Patrick, Iteration, December 3, Untied (A Stoplight Story)

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