Isn't it About Time We Updated Our Christmas Songs?
From figgy pudding to ha'pennies, some of our traditional Christmas songs are so out of date that they make little sense to some of us.
Some old Christmas songs are classics, in the same way the King James Version of the Bible is a classic: songs like "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," "Frosty the Snowman," even "Rudolph." But it's surprising how many outdated Christmas songs we sing just because our parents did, and theirs did before them.
You may have seen my recent rant about the infamous Twelve Days of Christmas, with its lords and maids jumping around milking everywhere, and its odd preoccupation with game birds. Admittedly, the five golden rings might be cool Christmas presents, as long as one isn't the One Ring That Rules Them All.
Of Fat Geese and Pennies
You might recall singing the old "Christmas is Coming" song when you were a wee tot for some half-forgotten school Christmas extravaganza. I have reason to know that they still make wee tots sing it today. You know the one: "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..."
Okay. Have you ever eaten goose for Christmas? Probably not, but you might remember that it happened in "A Christmas Carol." Yes, a Victorian British story. Not an American one. You might as well crown your Christmas decorations with a big ol' scary Krampus, the medieval European anti-Santa Claus.
About That Coinage...
We're also urged to "please put a penny in an old man's hat. If you don't have a penny, a ha'penny will do; if you don't have a ha'penny, well God bless you!"
If you don't know what the heck a ha'penny is, you're not alone.
In fact, it's obvious that most of the choir directors making our kids sing this one don't either. Half the time they pronounce it "hay-penny," which makes even less sense. In fact, the word is a contraction of "halfpenny," which was pronounced something like "happenny."
Notice I wrote "was." Obviously, this song hails from a time and place where a penny could actually buy something, and they actually minted halfpennies. Victorian England again. If you put a penny in an old man's hat today, he'd probably be a tad upset...and as for a halfpenny, he surely wouldn't say "God bless you."
If we're going to keep old using old songs like this, could we at least update them to modern coinage while caroling and wrapping this year's Christmas gifts? Say, put a dollar in the old man's hat, and a half-dollar will do?
Or if you really want to sweeten the pot, try dropping a gold coin in the old man's hat. At least one person has done this every year for the past several years, somewhere in America, usually via a Salvation Army kettle. Now, that's something to write Christmas songs about!