Friday, December 30, 2005

Who roasts chestnuts, anyway?

"You mean you've never heard of Joy to the World? Or Hark the Herald Angels Sing? How do you not know these Christmas songs?"

Zachary and Katie screaming carolsMy childhood piano teacher asked me these questions, looking at me like I was insane. As a 7-year old child of an immigrant family, I was confused, unsure of whether I should be annoyed that my parents never taught me these songs, or whether I should be annoyed that this teacher was so presumptuous. Was it really so important that I know these songs? How good are they anyway?

Looking back on it, she should have known better; she was Chinese herself! I only knew Christmas songs like Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Upon the Rooftop, the ones they teach the kids to sing in school. And I knew Silent Night from my Buddhist mother, who liked to sing it to me at bedtime.

Eventually I enjoyed playing some of these songs, but I faltered at the recital and eventually quit playing piano. Somehow my heart wasn't in it. I think I was annoyed with people presuming to know what I should know, like, or do.

Why couldn't I have learned some Beatles songs? I would have liked that. I suppose every kid goes through this. I bet someday if I have kids and try to teach them Beatles songs, they'll ask me why they can't learn Christmas songs or some cover of Mmm-Bop by a horrible new teen-age popstar.

I grew to like a lot of Christmas songs. In fact, I even own several Christmas music albums. They're usually so jovial, spirited, and nostalgic. They make me feel festive and nostalgic for memories I never had, like walking down a meadow to make a snowman that looks like Parson Brown and roasting chestnuts by an open fire. (What was a Parson, anyway?)

Speaking of which, did people really roast chestnuts for Christmas? I don't know anyone who does this. I ate roasted chestnuts growing up, because sometimes you can find chestnut stands outside Asian supermarkets; I think chestnut stands are popular street snacks in Taiwan.

Ironically I learned recently from NPR that many of these traditional American Christmas songs were written by Jewish people! (Do tbe Jews roast chestnuts?) They wrote such catchy X'mas songs, I wonder why they didn't write more catchy Jewish songs other than Hava Nagila (which was my choice of ringtone until my phone broke) or The Dreidel Song. Maybe they preferred to kvetch than to sing.


Recently I watched the movie, You've Got Mail, which features one of those warm and fuzzy Christmas scenes with the family surrounding the piano, singing some bizarre Christmas song that I had never heard of. Kiyong was also watching the film with me.

"Does your family do that? I don't know anybody who really does Christmas like that, but they always show scenes like this in the movies," he said. I figured there probably were good ol' multigenerational Christian-American families who really did sing together by the piano like the movies, but I didn't know these people personally.

There are people in my family who do play the piano, and my Aunt Susan even used to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when she went to college in Utah! And most of my midwestern relatives are devout Christians. Yet we never sang Christmas carols when we got together.

But this Christmas, the new generation would have none of that. This Christmas, as I sat in my cousins' basement play room, watching others play video games, the little kids, Zachary and Katie, decided lead us into song, which went something like this:

Zachary and Katie leading singingZachary: Hey everybody! Let's sing Christmas songs!
Everyone: ...
Katie (whispering): Louder!
Zachary: Hey! EveryBODEE! Listen to ME!
Zach and Katie leading X'mas CarolsZachary: HEY! Listen to me!
Katie (whispering): Say "Attention please!"
Zachary: Attention! Every! BODY! Attention, PLEASE! We're going to sing a Christmas song!
Katie & Zachary: Ruuuuuudolph, the Red-nosed reindeeee... ee..r..
Zachary: Nobody's singing.
Me: Zachary, count to 3, so we know when to start.
Zachary: ONE... twoooooooooo... THREEEEEEEEEE...
Katie & Zachary: Rudolph, the Red-nosed reindeeeeer! HAD A VERY SHINY NOSE!!!
Zachary: Nobody's SINGING!
Katie: Count again!
Zachary (screaming): ONE! TWOOOOOO! THREEEEEEE!
Katie & Zachary (screaming): Rudolph! the Red-NOSED REIN! DEER! HAD A VERY SHINY NOSE!!!

Finally some of us grown-ups joined in the song, mostly to quell the screaming, until the kids kept getting stuck on the lyric about Rudolph not joining in reindeer games, at which they kept starting over, and over, and over again, and finally their short attention spans allowed them to switch to a new activity.

Sadly for the kids, Rudolph didn't go over so well with everyone, but I had a better plan for a new holiday tradition: Karaoke Revolution Party.

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Blogger copykat said...

i'm not sure if people make them anymore, but you can buy roast chestnuts from street vendors in nyc.

also, i agree with you that xmas music is RAD. especially as done by classic crooners like frank sinatra and ella fitzgerald.

i found one of my favorite new songs on a starbucks xmas compilation. it's called "feeling good" by nina simone and you can find it on YME. (in fact, i discovered that you can type artist + song in the song search & get results...very cool). i think you'll love the positive vibe--a great song to ring in 2006 with!

happy new year!

9:09 PM  
Blogger piggy said...

roasted chestnuts are one of my favorite. I used to get them off the streets in Hong Kong... soo yummy.

1:56 PM  

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