Monday, December 7, 2015

Jingle Bells: From Medford to Outer Space

One of the best-known Christmas songs in the world started out as a Thanksgiving song! Not surprising, since the lyrics to "Jingle Bells" never once reference Christmas, reindeer, or a certain fat, jolly man with a white beard and a red suit.

In 1832, little Jimmy Pierpont of Medford, Massachusetts, was sent to boarding school in New Hampshire, where he wrote to his mother about riding in a sleigh through the deep December snow. In 1850, when his father asked him to compose a jingle for Thanksgiving (13 years before it would become an official holiday) James recalled what fun he had sledding as a boy and penned what he called "One Horse Open Sleigh." He would officially publish the song in 1857, and again, two years later, re-christened as "Jingle Bells."

Original 1957 sheet music title page for JINGLE BELLS (One Horse Open Sleigh) by James Pierpont

The song was not an immediate hit and was considered racy for its time. The little-heard second verse scandalously describes a young man riding his sleigh unchaperoned with Miss Fanny Bright until they get "upsot." The double entendre of their ride being capsized -- presumably because they were drunk -- turned the ditty into a drinking game before it would become the classic Christmas carol we know today.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!
A much later, uncredited change to the melody also helped the song gain popularity. Originally, the chorus followed the chord progression of Pachelbel's Canon. That version of the tune eventually found its way into another Christmas song, "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," by Benjamin Hanby, composer of the better-known "Up on the House Top." Jim Pierpont never made much money off of his most enduring song, but his nephew, banker J.P. Morgan, would become one of the richest men in the world.

Flash forward to NASA's 1965 Gemini 6 mission when astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra reported an unidentified flying object leaving the North Pole. It being close to Christmas Eve, they quickly realized they had spotted Santa's sleigh from their space ship and proceeded to play "Jingle Bells" on harmonica and sleigh bells, making it not only the most popular Christmas song on Earth, but the first song ever to be performed in, and broadcast live from, outer space!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Behind the Music: Peace On Earth

Everyone knows Bing Crosby from his biggest hit, "White Christmas," which was released on Christmas Day in 1941, and became the best-selling single in history.
White Christmas by Bing Crosby on Decca Records
The crooner went on to star in a movie named after the song in 1954 and became the perennial guest host of The Hollywood Palace Christmas specials throughout the 1960s.
Bing's final television appearance was on his own 1977 Christmas special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, with special guest star David Bowie. Crosby suggested they sing another 1941 classic Christmas carol, "The Little Drummer Boy." But Bowie liked to march to his own little drummer boy, so he and the show's writers, Alan Kohan, Ian Fraser, and Larry Grossman (Snoopy: The Musical), composed a new counterpoint melody entitled "Peace On Earth."

And thus a new Christmas standard was born of an old one.

Peace, out.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Dear Santa, I'm Jewish

Christmas in July

Lords-a-leaping! Exactly five months from tonight, Santa will be on his way to your chimney with LOTS of toys and goodies!

I just came across this letter to Santa from a nice Jewish boy in the United States who is hoping to get a shout out from His Jolliness this Christmas. Well, Mitchell Glaser, you're in luck. Our work here in the Village of the North Pole is one hundred percent secular and non-denominational. Santa will visit everyone, as long as you've been Nice.

Unfortunately, it looks like there's one word in your song that's very, very Naughty, and I'm not talking about "treif." So clean up your act, Mitchell. You have five months. Oy vey! #HoHoHo

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Better to Give

Last weekend was the first day of Summer. You call it the longest day of the year, but here in the North Pole, the Sun stays out all day and all night for five months straight! Kinda makes it hard to see all the Christmas lights.
Daddy with the reindeer. The North Pole is bathed in 24 hours of daylight during the summer.
The Summer Solstice also fell on Father’s Day this year, which is always a troubling time for me. Giftgiving is one of the most important skills you can have in the North Pole. I love Presents class at N.P.H., but our teacher, Mr. Polar Bear, is pretty easy to please, as long as you gift him something that tastes like seal.

Then Father’s Day rolls around and I realize how high school has once again failed to prepare me for real life. I mean, what do you get the man who’s the best in the world at giving Presents?

Last year I knitted him a Christmas sweater that said, “World’s Greatest Dad.” Do you know how much yarn it takes to make a sweater for a guy his size? Let’s just say there were a lot of cold Alpacas last fall. And he never wore it once. My dad’s a little set in his ways, fashion-wise. When was the last time you saw him in anything but that red suit of his?
So I asked Chefy to help me make Daddy a jelly bean souffle, but he still hasn’t forgotten the last time he let me use his kitchen to make spaghetti and I didn’t put the lid on a pot and the bubble gum sauce got all over everything. Then I checked with one of Daddy’s top elves to see what new toys they were cooking up for next Christmas, but Daddy already gets one of everything they create.

Finally I had Tinsel help me chisel a beautiful Ice Sculpture of Daddy and I merrily wrapped it up and placed it under our Father’s Day tree by the fireplace. Well, you can probably guess what happened when he opened it. First he was drenched by the melted Present, then by my tears. I’d tried so hard to give him something special.
My ice sculpture of Daddy might have looked something like this one from Ice Visions, before it melted. :(
But Daddy just smiled and said, “Ho, ho, ho. ’Tis all good, Candycane. I’m much happier giving gifts than receiving them.” Then he proved it by giving me a gift: a great big hug!

“You’re the best dad in the whole wide world,” I told him. And he said that hearing that was the best Father’s Day present ever. My dad rocks!

Merry Half-Christmas, everyone!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Top Ten Reasons We Miss Letterman

At numbers one through ten, the Top Ten things the North Pole misses about the David Letterman show are the annual performances of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) by Darlene Love.

Darlene Love sings "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra on The Late Show with David Letterman

The first single and only original song from Phil Spector's 1963 Christmas album, A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records, initially failed to catch on, having been released on the same day as the John F. Kennedy assassination, kicking off one of the bleakest Christmas seasons in American history.

President and Mrs. Kennedy in front of their Christmas tree in 1963

Eventually, the song would be recognized as a classic thanks to Paul Shaffer bringing Ms. Love back every year since 1986 to revive the ditty on national television. Ranked the #1 Greatest Rock and Roll Christmas Song in 2010 by Rolling Stone, Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) has been covered by U2, Mariah Carey, and, on the 2013 CMA Country Christmas special, by Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars.

Have a happy Wall of Sound!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Yes, Virginia, Santa's Coming Back This Year


Santa's annual Christmas deliveries have become an eagerly anticipated annual tradition around the world. But one little girl is worried that Santa won't come back this year due to a mishap during his visit last year.

When reached for comment at his home in the North Pole, Santa Claus said, "Ho, ho, ho. Of course I'm coming back this year!" A spokeself for Santa's Workshop announced earlier today that Santa has once again selected December 25th, exactly 11 months from today, as the date of his next visit. Experts recommend staying on Santa's Nice List until then, as Mr. Claus is expected to load lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.

William Hardy and Billy Moore wrote Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney in 1950. The song was originally recorded by jazz great Ella Fitzgerald. You can download her version for just 69 cents at Amazon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Penguin Awareness Day

January 20th is Penguin Awareness Day!

Many astute readers of my book, North Pole High: A Rebel Without a Claus, have asked me how is is that my family has a penguin for a chef.

As everybody knows, penguins are found in Antarctica, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, the Falkland Islands, and the Galapagos Islands -- NOT in the North Pole.

Well, it's a short story. Literally. Shortly after my book came out, I released a collection of short stories by some of my closest friends. Chefy's story of how he came to live in the North Pole is one of those. Here's a taste:

The First Welcoming Feast (Excerpt)
by Chefy

An oral history of Chefy, as told to Candycane Claus.

Chefy, the Claus family's penguin chef, from North Pole High. Penguin Awareness Day.
My story? Why, thank you for asking. I am beyond flattered. Nobody here ever wishes to be regaled by my glorious tales from the south lands, much less comes straight out and requests to hear one.

Let me see. Where to begin? I was hatched by my father many, many years ago on the South Shetland Islands, where I developed an interest in cooking at an early age. I simply could not stomach my parents’ food preparation methods. You see, first they’d eat my meal themselves—to ensure it was not poisonous, they’d say—then regurgitate the already digested food into my beak. Now I ask you, is that any way for a young chick to enjoy the sumptuous taste of a fine kettle of fish?

Are you getting all of this? Please do let me know if I am going too fast.

Anyway, by the time my adult feathers came in, I had already invented a number of signature dishes out of little more than snow, ice, rocks, calling bird feathers, and magic algae from the floor of the sea. One day I waddled up to my parents and said, “Excuse me, please, but I have decided to be a chef.”

My older brother fell in the snow and rolled about, laughing.

“And just whom, pray tell, do you plan to chef for?” my mother nay-said, slurping a mollusk off her webbed foot. “Not everyone in the South Pole is a fussy eater like you. Most of us are fine with our food the way it comes.”

“If our baby wishes to spend his life wearing that funny hat and an apron,” my father began, in his grandest attempt to sound supportive, “what harm could it do?”

To show my commitment to my new occupation, I decided to change my name. “From now on, I want you all to call me Chefy.”

To my delightful surprise, they agreed to comply with this instruction, though that may have been more because my given penguin name, Ejarkthamaptonaraaliey Yennnnisferiptidognoman, was so difficult to pronounce. The ‘g’ is silent.

“And to answer your question, mother, it is my dream to one day cook an immense feast for His Honor, Mr. Claus.”

* * * * *

I guess it's not that short a story. If you want to learn the true story behind the South Pole Flying Seal Think Tank and the subsequent North and South Polar Trade Agreement and how it all led to my father discovering Chefy and bringing his talents to the North Pole, then celebrate Penguin Awareness Day with North Pole High: Beginnings, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play.
North Pole High: Beginnings, a collection of short origin stories compiled and edited by Candace Jane Kringle, author of North Pole High: A Rebel Without a Claus