According to the Billboard Holiday Albums chart (as I was writing this), we should do a song from Pentatonix’s first Christmas album. But we already did Pentatonix on Monday. The next album on the chart is the amusingly-titled, Ellen’s The Only Christmas Album You’ll Ever Need, Volume 1. But (of course) it’s just a collection of other people’s songs.
So, instead of doing the fifth album on the Holiday Albums chart, let’s do the fifth song (as of when I wrote this) on the Holiday 100 singles chart: Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.”
The chords for this song are insane, as anyone who’s ever tried to play it knows. (Thanks a lot, Mel Tormé.) But I, as usual, want to talk about the lyrics.
Nostalgia for Something New
One of the things that’s interesting about Christmas songs from the 40s-60s (this one is from the 40s) is that they help define the feel and atmosphere of Christmas for me, even though I know:
I can’t imagine Christmas without these songs, so I’m glad they had been added to the Christmas mix by the time I was born — even if it means I don’t get the original recipe.
For Christians like me, of course, Christmas is primarily a time about looking back to the beginning. (We’ve talked before — when analyzing the Beatles — about whether or not to judge things by where they come from, where they’re going, or what they are in themselves.) But even for non-Christians, as “The Christmas Song” brilliantly shows, Christmas is about reliving childhood excitement and wonder.
There is a tendency to see the things you’ve outgrown as being of less value than you originally thought (see my discussion of Nirvana and angst). Rattles are fascinating for infants, and peekaboo is hilarious to babies, but what’s actually fascinating is quantum mechanics, and what’s actually hilarious is 30 Rock. Kids movies, furthermore, are just kid’s movies. The really good films are made for mature audiences. And young adult fiction is dumbed down. The really good books are written for the parents of the kids reading the YA books.
When we grow out of something, and cease to find it interesting, it has lost its value to us. But this is extrinsic value. And we are often able to experience its original value again if we share an experience of it with a child. (Intersubjectivity again!)
Peekaboo really is hilarious when you’re playing it with a baby. Disney cartoons really are quality entertainment when you’re watching them with kids.
The question, then, is whether the value was there all along, and you had just lost the ability to see it without help. Perhaps nostalgia can sometimes be a signal that we have grown callous, not that we have grown up.
The Hidden Track
Q: What kind of philosophy were we doing today?
A: Value Theory.
Continue your investigation at:
- The link above.
- “No, you don’t have to be ashamed of reading young adult fiction,” by Alyssa Rosenberg (Washington Post)
- “In Defense of YA: The Pleasure and Value in Young Adult Literature Rightly Read,” by Erin Wyble Newcomb (Christ and Pop Culture)
- “The Value of Young Adult Literature” (Young Adult Library Services Association)