Monday, November 24, 2014

We Gather Together

I'm continuing my miniature crusade to make Thanksgiving a more significant holiday and rescue it from the shadow of its louder and more commercial cousin, the 250 days of the X-mas season.

Maybe that's the problem with my campaign: just like the holiday, it's too modest. And I don't have any corporate sponsors.

You might be wondering how I could get corporations to sponsor diatribes against commercialism and against materialistic excess. Well, here's something I've learned by observing the Christmas season come and go these many years. Corporations have no problem at all putting their names to television shows with the message that there is more to life than buying stuff. They aren't worried that we'll take that too seriously. As long as you've trampled your quota of people at BestBuy getting what you think is a great deal on a plasma television and THEN come home in a foul mood from circling the mall trying to find a parking spot for four hours to put your feet up and watch a feel good special about how it's really all about that special feeling you get from the season or whatever muck it's about, that's all good. Capitalism first, rhetoric later. It's actually a pretty cozy relationship.

Sooooooo, anyway......

At our church's Thanksgiving dinner last week, I played this little number, which my buddy Marteau wrote for me. It is based on a Thanksgiving hymn but the poor hymn has a little trouble being heard over the noise of some of the OTHER tunes that keep intruding. Some of you might want to play along and write down the "extraneous" tunes as you hear them. If you'd like, you can send me an email ( I haven't decided yet what the winner will receive beyond my astonishment at their superior aural skills, but I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, here is the music, prefaced by what I said at the Thanksgiving dinner. I'm also adding a transcript of my remarks, which are almost verbatim, except I think I skipped a couple of lines:

commentary  (the music is below the transcript)

Transcript of remarks:

[The piece I’m going to play for you now was inspired by an historic discovery.]Archeologists have recently unearthed evidence that suggests that the minor holiday we call Thanksgiving was once a stand-alone holiday, rather than a day that merely reminds us that we are already three-quarters of the way through the Christmas season. In fact—and I found this really hard to believe—Christmas was originally just a day long. The first attempts to expand the holiday into the mega-festival that we know and loathe occurred during the Middle Ages, when the science of assault-by-holiday was still in its infancy. In fact, the Medievals showed their incompetence by expanding the holiday in the completely wrong direction. Starting from December 25th, they decided to make it last until Jan, 5, with Epiphany to follow on January 6th. This rather quaint custom has been preserved in a song, which like so many Christmas songs, we sing without having any earthly idea why. Show of hands—how many of you have actually ever gone dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh? I didn’t think so.

The song I’m referring to is called “The 12 Days of Christmas” and you’ve probably suffered through it a few times yourself. You know, the one with the fifers milking and the drummers swimming and the partridges throwing gold rings at each other—it’s chaos, I tell you.

Well, we sophisticated modern types have our own twelve days of Christmas. Before the hostile takeover, these were separate holidays, but now they are part of the Christmas season, as evidenced by the fact that on any of these days you will find Christmas items available for purchase to give to your true love. Beginning in the middle of August, the twelve days of modern Christmas are:

The first day of school
Labor Day
Grandparent’s Day
The Autumn Equinox
Columbus Day
Turn your clock back day
Veteran’s Day
Beethoven’s Birthday
Christmas Eve and of course

Christmas day until 10 am when your tree is on the curb with or without your screaming children, the house is a mess, and you collapse in a chair exhausted and vow never to do this again, confident that you have until the middle of next August before the process starts over.

Now the reason I bring all this up is that I’m going to play a piece based on the Thanksgiving hymn, “We Gather Together.” Ordinarily the tune would get center stage surrounded by some adoring chords and some admiring filigree, but this particular Thanksgiving hymn finds itself struggling to hold forth, under what appears to be a sustained assault by some tunes that you’ll probably recognize.

Kristen [my spouse] suggests that when you hear one of these rogue tunes you might want to write it down and see how many you come up with. Maybe there are extra mash potatoes for the winner—I don’t know. Anyway, here we go....

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