23 December 2018

A War on Christmas?

When I was a wee lad with a jolly red nose (‘jolly’ = ‘drippy’), radio evangelists fumed that Xmas was disrespectful and probably blasphemous. Campaigns raged: “Help keep the Christ in Christmas.”
Good Sunday school teachers like Barbara Ritchie, Phyllis Miller, and my own mother quietly debunked the notion Xmas was sacrilegious. A War against Christmas sold radio spots and little more. But wait… Xmas? It does sound irreligious.

X, symbolically used by early Christians, referred to the first Greek letter of Χριστός or Christós, ‘the anointed’. See how easily you can read Greek?

Christ(os) in Greek
Ch Χ chi
r ρ rho
i ι iota
s σ sigma
t τ tau
o ό omikron
s ς sigma

Baby, It's Cold Outside record
And yet…

A battle against Christmas may not be waging at the city gates, but a war against up to a dozen Christmas songs comes as no hoax. This present day problem derives from humor-deficient, history-challenged, literal-minded Scrooges bereft of feeling of an era. Such misery misers seem prone to misconstrue meanings of phrases used at the time they were written… and understood.

A current target is the Academy Award winning ‘Baby, It's Cold Outside,’ overshadowed by the spectre of rape. Peculiar because Frank Loesser wrote the song to sing with his wife, Lynn Garland, to wrap up at parties in their flat in New York City’s Navarro Hotel, and suggest to guests it was time to depart into the night.

Once upon a time, it was de rigueur for a lady to protest. It wasn’t becoming for a woman to openly desire s-e-x. As World War II entered its final awful year in 1944, audiences understood the playful ‘call and response’ nature of the song, dialogue that would guide modern couples through a relatively repressive era, and help society understand sensuality, passion, and sexuality are healthful and natural. Loesser and Garland sang the song to hint they’d like romance time alone. The song made it into the 1949 MGM movie, Neptune’s Daughter.

I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus record
The so-called date-rape drug slipped into her drink? Eleven years after Prohibition, it’s almost certainly whiskey in the eggnog, Irish in the coffee. Sheesh, get a life.

While we’re on the topic, let’s deal with another maligned song. The ‘Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ isn’t carrying on an affair with Father Christmas. He’s the daddy, see, her husband who… Oh, never mind. If one has to explain it…

And yet…

Speaking of songs on the hitlist, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ offends some people with claims of sexism and animal cruelty and, according to at least one blog, slavery.

The lyrics published in England date back to 1780. They probably derived from a considerably earlier composition in France. The arrangement we hear today, including the drawn-out “five gold rings,” was written in 1909 by British composer and baritone Frederic Austin.

Twelve Days of Christmas record (Como)
The ballad tells us a few things seemingly forgotten in an urban world. For one thing, a-milking is not the same as a-lactating. C’mon, get a life. Households often kept chickens or geese, and a cow, goat, or even sheep.

The song reminds us Christmas once encompassed twelve days plus the Feast of the Epiphany. I’ve discussed this before: The twelve days doesn’t culminate on December 25th, it commences. In other words, the 25th of December begins the twelve days of Christmas, which ends on the 5th of January. ‘Little Christmas’ follows on 6 January, also called Three Kings Day. Yay! That means it’s okay to leave your decorations up until at least the 6th of January.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
date day gift per day totals
Dec 25 1 st 1 partridge pear tree 1 1
26 2 nd 2 turtle doves 3 4
27 3 rd 3 French hens 6 10
28 4 th 4 calling birds 10 20
29 5 th 5 gold rings 15 35
30 6 th 6 geese a-laying 21 56
31 7 th 7 swans a-swimming 28 84
Jan 01 8 th 8 maids a-milking 36 120
02 9 th 9 ladies dancing 45 165
03 10 th 10 lords a-leaping 55 220
04 11 th 11 pipers piping 66 286
05 12 th 12 drummers drumming 78 364
Feast of the Epiphany 364 total

Victorian angel
The Twelve Days carol includes a little mathematical curiosity. The count of gifts each day is cumulative. The recipient doesn’t merely receive two turtledoves on the second day, but two doves plus an additional partridge. On the third day, six presents arrive– 3 hens, 2 doves, and 1 more partridge. Thus for the season, a total of twelve partridges are handed over, as are twenty-two doves, thirty French hens, etc.

When all the gifts are counted, the grand total comes to 364… one for every day of the year minus one. What day came up short? I have no idea.

A war on Christmas? Tis a season of giving, a season of sharing, and a season of singing. Christmas can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter your religion.

Help keep the ❤︎ in Christmas.


  1. And a Merry Christmas to you Leigh!

  2. Thank you, Jeff! Have a great Christmas and a wonderful new year!

  3. Life is far too short to be arguing about such things. I hope everyone has a nice holiday season, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and your favorite college football team wins its bowl game and NFL playoff games. If none of the above applies - take a nap.

  4. Leigh, I was in LOVE with a British film version of this song, that portrayed exactly what you are talking about. It was hilarious - day after day of the same items delivered to one house, to the point where her house was overrun, a manic zoo. The man and his Edwardian love run away together, to escape it. This film ran all through my childhood and young adult years, right after the Queen's message. I'm told that the film disintegrated. Can't find it anywhere, and that is a deep sadness. But thanks for the memory.

  5. THere are two good parody/commentaries on "Baby, ICO." Unfortunately the official version of the Key and Peele song has been taken down from Youtube. Here is a messy video copy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_PGenkrOVY

    And the Holderness Family version. The fact that the gentleman looks somewhat sleazy makes it perfect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJB9GP5gyAw

  6. Merry Christmas to you, Leigh, Velma, and all the other Sleuthsayers. I didn't do my usual October guest column on SS, so I'll catch you up here. I'm half-way through writing a new mystery (not a Callie) for a new publisher. It's not so cold here in SC, but I have someone (also new) to keep me warm when it is. I've changed my looks again and will send you a pic after Christmas, Leigh. Here's hoping everyone of you is as happy all over as I am this holiday season. Oh, and just for Robert - I have three songs (not bluegrass nor gospel this time) up for recording in February. I still enjoy the CD of yours that you sent me long ago.

  7. Leigh, some people seem to find arguments where there are none. Guess it makes them feel special.
    In any case, have some good holidays and thanks for the Greek lesson, I still remember the X argument.

    Rob, the second video you mentioned was a hoot.

  8. Some people take undue joy in depriving others of joy. Suspicious dictatorial types notoriously read peculiar meanings into things they don't understand like booze in a drink isn't rapey or kissing under mistletoe isn't rapey or milkmaids not the same as wetnurse maids. Christ, how do these people reproduce?

    Some build themselves up by tearing down others. Even modern songs by pop singers come under attack. I think the article used playful to describe the songs, which seems to offend far left and right. The extremists like to take away what the rest of us ( 94-95% according to one article) enjoy. That 5% tail wants to wag the dog and that's not right. Sorry to rant but these unaware revisionist idiots are awful.

    Have a good Christmas where I mean whatever holiday you take pleasure in.

  9. O’Neil, ain’t that the truth. Life is way too short. I wish you a happy Christmas and… I think I’ll take that nap, too.

    Oh Melodie, what a sad-sweet memory. You would have thought someone somewhere would have preserved a print of such a popular film. Happy Christmas and may someone turn up a copy of the film just for your.

    Happy holiday, Rob. Whew! The K&P piece is scary! As you say, Penn in that hideous, used-car salesman jacket is a riot.

    Fran! How wonderful to hear from you. I left you a message or two during the hurricane, but I imagine you had your hands full at the time. I look forward to the new photo and updates. I’m glad someone keeps you warm at night… I mean, erm, that’s soooooooo politically incorrect. (We love it.) I’ll see that Rob finds your message.

    Hi RT. Much ado about nothing, but some people get highly exercised about it all.

    As part of math, science, and engineering, students had to learn the Greek alphabet. Our local Greek Orthodox Church has a festival each year. During a visit, I suddenly realized I could read the names of saints and disciples.

    Sammi, some people’s monument to themselves is founded on the destruction of others’. I hope you have a great Christmas and new year.

  10. Fran, congrats on the new publisher. Let us know when the songs are available!


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