Songs of Christmas

This morning I turned on “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” as background while I did the dishes. Except that song never stays as background. Within moments I was singing along. Howard wandered up the stairs and joined the chorus. Then he plugged in his iPad to play an alternate version. We sang to that one too. After the music stopped, Howard pointed out that it really is an odd addition to the canon of Christmas music. It is a song about a truly terrible person sung by a narrator who is trying really hard to be thoroughly insulting. Yet it is unequivocally Christmas music for me. This is because every time I hear the song, I remember the rest of the story. I remember that Christmas came without packages, boxes, or tags. I remember the whos hand in hand singing. Most of all I remember the Grinch’s heart, his triumphant return, and the carving of the roast beast. None of this is in the song, yet all of it is there. This is the power of story.

I started to think about it, and realized that this is true of many of my favorite Christmas songs, though for some it is not the story their writers may have intended. I remember the other times of singing a particular song. Memories return of singing when I was 10, 12, 15, 25, 38. Year after year the songs do not change, but they accumulate more meaning with every memory which is attached to them. Ten years from now this morning’s impromptu concert will be part of the grinch song. It reminds me of an essay I wrote long ago about composite memories. Love in the Cookie Dough.