Woog’s World: Christmas songs help bring some normalcy to an abnormal, COVID Christmas

I don’t want a lot for Christmas. I won’t even wish for snow. Usually all I ask: Just turn the #$%^&* Christmas music off.

This year set a record. It was early November - not even Veterans Day, let alone Thanksgiving - when “Joy to the World” erupted in the Fresh Market air.

In normal years, that would send me screaming for the exits. I knew what was coming: many more weeks of chestnuts roasting by an open fire. The little drummer boy rum-pum-pum-pum-puming. There won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime.

Gene Autry. Bing Crosby. Chuck Berry. The Beach Boys. Mariah Carey. Josh Groban. Dead or alive; the greatest generation, baby boomers, 21st-century entertainers — it didn’t matter. Their soul-sucking music was everywhere. There was no escape from the onslaught of holly, jolly Christmas music.

Then came COVID.

Last year’s holiday season was so sad. Nine months into the pandemic, with no relief in sight, we hunkered down at home. Parties - office, neighborhood, even family - were out. Downtown was ghostly. The songs that accompanied those rituals - background noise that once drove me up a wall - sounded hollow, bouncing off empty walls.

We entered this Christmastime with high hopes. Invitations to traditional gatherings poured in. There were caveats (please be vaccinated!) and concessions (last week’s Candlelight Concert audience was 50 percent capacity). But throughout November, we steamed forward to what would truly be the most wonderful time in nearly two years.

In the past couple of weeks some of those hopes have melted down, like Frosty as he hurried on his way. The omicron variant roared over the ocean and into our country and state. In between hurrying home for the holidays, we lined up for booster shots, moved parties outdoors, and trimmed a few guests from our tree trimming list.

Along the way though, something else happened. Instead of turning the radio dial away from Christmas music, I sought it out.

There was something sentimental, not syrupy, about wanting to be home for Christmas. There was something comforting, not confining, about the jingle bell rock. It was beginning to look, and sound, a lot like Christmas. That is, every Christmas up until last year.

COVID caused so many changes in the way we live. They range from huge (mask mandates, working from home, canceled sports events and Broadway shows) to only slightly noticeable (no more handshakes, more credit card swipes, more hand wipes too).

But those changes pale compared to our emotional, psychic shifts. We see the world now as a fundamentally different place than we did those two short, but very, very long, years ago.

Danger now lurks around every corner. Every social gathering is fraught. We make mental calculations: Should I wear a mask, or not? Is that other person not masked because they forgot, don’t care, are fully vaccinated, or refuse to believe the government should tell them what to do? How safe is flying, eating in a restaurant, seeing movies, seeing family, seeing strangers?

The holiday season, once a time for so much joy and happiness (with plenty of stress, though not of the life-or-death variety), is a marker of some sorts. Just a month ago, we thought this 2021 version would be so much more “normal” than 2020. Last Christmas, we gave fewer presents. We gave no parties. We gave up our hearts, to an insidious, microscopic virus.

This Christmas brought a new variant. We’re learning the Greek alphabet. Twice bitten, we’re thrice shy.

So - worried and weary, edgy but eager to move on - we embrace these final days of the year with a new perspective.

Back in the day - 2019 - I found a song like “All I Want for Christmas” teeth-gnashing. Its message was as loathsome as its presence was ubiquitous. “I don’t care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree”? Wasn’t that the whole point of the month?

Today, I get it. The holiday truly is about children laughing, people passing, meeting smile after smile. Sure, they’re rushing with their treasures. But they want to be home for the holidays.

And what better way to celebrate than to hear those old, familiar tunes?

So bring on the schmaltzy lyrics. Jingle those bells. Let that horse whinny at the end of the Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride” till the cows come home. I don’t care how many times Michael Jackson saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus, or Bruce Springsteen asks Clarence Clemmons if Santa Claus is coming to town with a new saxophone.

It’s Christmas time in the city (and suburb). Soon it will be Christmas day. Until then, I want to hear what I always hear.

Except “The Christmas Shoes.” It’s still the worst song in the history of music.

Bah, humbug!

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.net. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.