Sleigh of News

The Pope’s Hate Message, a Misnamed
Disease, & Other Christmas Oddities

It’s a season of joy, of much tra-la-la and all that. But it’s also a time prone to burst into disconcerting news, and we’re not talking about thousands of armed conflicts around the world that don’t even bother celebrating it and taking a break from killing people.
Just like many a regular business, war doesn’t close its doors during Christmas. Neither hate goes on holiday, judging by the pope’s annual message, rallying troops against gay marriage. In other news, though, science has finally diagnosed Rudolph the Red-Nosed Deer, oh dear.
Not to play a heavy hand here, but religion is often a factor at the trigger-happy start of any conflict, but retreats to irrelevance when it comes to demanding it to stop. No wonder a recent survey found out that nonbelievers now form the world’s ‘third-largest religion,’ which is startling oxymoron to begin with.
Somehow, though, people still care, at least enough to steal baby jesuses from nativity scenes all across America. Apparently, there’s an odd increase in reported robberies in 2012, compared to previous years. Religious fervor? Pranksters at play? We can’t say, or pretend, that we care one way or another.
But, as we said before, it is a time for reprieve, which is evidenced in the increase in charity donations, widespread acts of goodwill and a general feeling that yes, ’tis the season. And the Christmas Disease alluded to above, a rare type of hemophilia, is not even named after it, but by Stephen Christmas, a U.K. AIDS activist who died in 1993.

That’s why it’s so baffling that the spiritual leader of 2.2 billion people in the world has chosen exactly this time to reach out to other religious chiefs in what can only be called a crusade against homosexuals. According to Benedict XVI, there’s a threat to the family every time a same-sex couple pledges each other eternal love.
Don’t blame us to bring this up, but when Pope John XXIII, for instance, reached out to other groups in the early 1960s, it was an effort to unite all faithful around the same cause of love, peace and understanding. Most definitely not to invest the supposed church’s mandate on earth to go after this or that particular group.
Not so with the man who was active in the Hitler Youth movement, and despite all odds, became a pope. He has a troubling way of picking battles to fight: while astonishingly indifferent to thousands of claims of sexual abuse of minors by members of his clergy, he nevertheless takes every opportunity to talk at length about the sexual mores of the times.
These must be challenging times for practicing Catholics whose sexual orientation lays outside the church’s definition as standard male-female. Even as it denies its own flock the right to marry, the Vatican has no problem sharing the hate with other religions against those who get married according to their own choices.

But alas, not all news about Christmas is about intolerance, even if you have to reach out to the British Medical Journal, which has finally published a study on a long-awaited diagnostic to one of the holiday’s seminal figures: the reason why Rudolph has that fabled red nose. Hint: it has nothing to do with one too many rum-laced eggnogs.
No, the red hue is a result of a ‘extremely dense array of blood vessels, packed into the nose in order to supply blood and regulate body temperature.’ Wouldn’t you know it? It’s all about nature, you see, even though it’s unlike that Robert May would’ve known any of that, when he created the mythical figure, and instantaneous Christmas best seller, in 1939.
The research, which was conducted by a team from the Netherlands and Norway, appears on BMJ’s special edition dedicated to the season, right along case reports about two other supernatural figures: The Tooth Fairy and E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, (as if there was any other that could be mistaken by Stephen Spielberg’s movie character). Aren’t you glad they have that kind of time on their hands?
Now, as if that wasn’t enough, comes a novel theory about Rudolph’s gender too. According to Eddie Deezen, who often writes for Neatorama, it couldn’t possibly be a male reindeer, since they lose their antlers by December, at the most, whereas females keep them until they give birth. Both nose and gender matters are sure to be under consideration for the next Annals of Improbable Research.

You may be almost sick of hearing the ‘sounds of the season’ played ad nauseam at places you’ve done your most stressful shopping of the year, so we’re not going to push it. But it’s a fact that more than a handful of the very best ones were written by people who didn’t even put up a tree at home, coming Christmas time.
The often vilified Jews, accused of everything your garden-variety hatemonger likes to dwell on it (and that we’re not dignifying mentioning here), have in fact contributed more than their share to the so-called miracle of Christmas. And they did it in one of the best ways possible: in song.
Starting by, you guessed it, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Deer, to White Christmas, The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Silver Bells, and Let It Snow, they all have been penned by Jews, perhaps not coincidentally, among the greatest American composers of all time.
Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne, Mel Tormé, and so many others, were all composers of some of the songs you routinely hear being murdered at this time of the year, sang by those who shouldn’t touch them. As it does every December, the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) compiles a list of the 25 most popular ones as determined by radio air play.
In 2012, a song written by (you guessed it correctly again, congratulations) at least one Jewish composer has topped the list, as it’d done the year before. Winter Wonderland was written in 1934 by Felix Bernard, with Richard B. Smith, and can be heard here with the great Louis Armstrong.

Talking about Christmas time (which is here again), the Beatles recorded that very title for their annual fan-only holiday record, in 1967. That’s right, even as they’d just completed their iconic, and arguably most radical album, Sgt. Pepper, they still found the time to write and record the almost nondescript tune, except, of course, for those golden vocals.
Their end-of-year albums were a luxurious tradition, even for Beatles fans, but became novelty items pretty much as soon as the new year would follow them. They recorded seven of those mostly tids and bits, slightly-altered versions of their hits, a lot of word play and whimsical studio activity, not easily translatable to a particularly entertaining hour. But it was the Beatles.
Ringo Starr would rerecord the song in 1999. The band’s two main songwriters did contribute to the holiday canon, though. The 1971 John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s Happy Xmas (The War Is Over) has become a bit more than a holiday song, mostly for well, its lyrics‘ peace message. And the more traditional 1979 Wonderful Christmastime has made a small fortune for Paul McCartney, according to Wikipedia.

And then comes Sir Christopher Lee, of course. The actor, whose popularity as Dracula in the Hammer movies of the 1950s and 1960s is topped only by Bela Lugosi’s, turned 90 last May, and has had an amazingly refreshing late career. His poise and deep voice have marked several big film productions. But nothing prepares anyone to his taste in music, and in that field, he’s had a ball.
Lee (who incidentally appears on the cover of McCartney’s 1973 Band of the Run album) has become a sage of heavy metal music, having sang in a few CDs of the genre. So whereas last December, he recorded a lengthy holiday message, in which he summarizes his film career, this time he just went for the jugular, so to speak: he recorded a couple of Christmas songs. Little Drummer Boy and Silent Night never sounded so crushingly heavy.
So here’s to you Draculas, Jews, Beatlemaniacs, hemophiliacs, disillusioned Christians, stolen jesuses, fellow gauche, and non-believers of all stripes: never mind the hateful old men, and the war mongers, and the Grinches and Scrooges out there. Have a safe holiday and enjoy the music and signs of the season.
* For more Colltales Christmas
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