Here Comes… St. Nicholas? (Song of the Week #21)

That’s right.  Here comes St. Nicholas.  Today I was all prepared to write about our Song of the Week #21, Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).  Then I was reminded that today is the feast day for Saint Nicholas.  You see, we switched days here at the log, so I was a little off.  My solution is to combine the two.  Seems like a good song to share on the feast day for the man who would help to form the characters of American Santa Claus and British Father Christmas.  So first- the man, the mystery, the saint.

Saint_NicholasNicholas, or Nikolaos, was a Greek priest living on the island of Myra in the 4th century.   He would become the Bishop of Myra known as the “Wonderworker”.  Born of wealthy parents he was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle, also a priest.  He took to religion early in like and was devoted to the fasts and practices of the church of the day.  As a priest he was also known as a secret gift giver.  He would put coins in the shoes of people who left them out for him (sound familiar?).  He is said to have resurrected three boys who were killed by a butcher in a time of famine.  He also is known for convincing sailors to give the town part of their wheat destined for the emperor in Constantinople.  The miracle was that they left over 2 years worth of wheat, but when the sailors arrive in port at the end of the voyage, there was no wheat missing.  He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, students and children.  Also, curiously, for pawnbrokers and thieves too.  When he died his relics were kept in the church in Myra.  In 1071 his remains were stolen during a period of war and taken to Bari in Italy.  Odd that thieves stole his relics, right?  The remains are still there today (although the Turkish Government has filed an appeal to have them returned to Myra).  These remains have a miracle property of their own.  Each year on December 6th they exude a clear liquid smelling of roses called manna, or myrrh.  The liquid is sold at the Cathedral and is said to have healing powers.  St. Nicholas Day is today and is a festival for children.  He is known to be the starting place for the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus.  So, here he comes!

Here comes santa2Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) was written by Gene Autry and Oakley Halderman.  Autry got the idea for the song while riding his horse in the 1946 Santa Claus Lane Parade in Los Angeles.  Today the parade is known as the Hollywood Christmas Parade, held the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The first demo version was made by Johnny Bond.  He improvised during the recording, using a glass of ice cubes to make the sound of some jingle bells.  Autry liked it and added the bells to the first recording he made in 1947.  He liked the song so much he even used it in his 1948 movie The Cowboys and the Indians.  The song has simple lyrics of a pop type but with a solid sacred message.  Hundreds of versions have been recorded over the last 65 years.  Take a moment to listen to a few:

Gene Autry– Original recording from the 40s. (version from his 1948 film, too)
Elvis Presley– It’s Elvis- a classic
Bing Crosby– Crooner takes on the song with the help of the Andrew Sisters
Ray Conniff– Ray and his singers (just for Natalie!)
Mariah Carey– drippy version from an ABC TV holiday special
Bob Dylan– Yup, Bob Dylan…


Songs You Never Knew

Natalie and I have a secret desire to create THE definitive listing of all Christmas music.  We have spent tens of hours discussing this idea and all the variations on it.  You will see this obsession play out over the year I’m quite sure.  We were talking at work today and I mentioned a song I sang with my class in elementary school  Shocking to me, Natalie had never heard it (you’ll have to listen to our podcast on Monday night to find out the song).  That got me thinking about songs that maybe none of us may have heard or even know exist.  There are literally hundreds of songs that we don’t get in the usual rotation each December.  Some of these are true gems that should be played often and discovered by all.  (Check out Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia as an example)

We’ll discuss lots of those hidden wonders, but it’s so much fun to delve into the more unique and unusual.  To start us on this quest for odd tunes, let’s look first to donkeys.  Donkeys showed up earlier in our discussion on nativity scenes and now I have two tunes to share with you.  First up 1960’s Dominick the Donkey.  Have you heard this musical legend?  (Click on the title to get a listen) Natalie and I agree that this well definitely be on our list of tunes to be eliminated.  Maybe that’s due to the high number of plays it had this past Christmas.  Turns out the tune had an amazing upswing on the charts in the UK.  It was the #2 song on iTunes in Britain for the week leading up to Christmas 2011.  Go figure!  Next donkey tune is more obscure.  I think I vaguely remember it from those CBS/ABC special presentations at the holiday since an animated show was built around it in 1977.  The same creative geniuses that created the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special brought us Nestor the Long Eared Donkey.  It tells the story of Nestor and his abnormally long ears and how they helped Mary in Bethlehem.  The song was written by a trio of writers that included Gene Autry.  Now this little wonder could easily spike back into popularity with the right marketing.  It’s reported to air on ABC Family each year at the holidays.  Click on the name to hear the signature song.  You can also search it on YouTube and view the entire special.

Finally, a challenge.  This number was recorded by unsigned artists in 1978.  Once record execs heard it they offered the band a $250,000 recording contract.  What do you think of that decision?  Brilliant?  Insane?  Decide for yourself when you hear Christmas at Kmart.

Countdown Podcast #5- 335 Days to go!

Snow, Snow, Snow– Click to hear this week’s Podcast

This week we look a little more closely at snowmen and how they fit into keeping our holiday spirit alive.  Topics include white Christmas, high altitude, moose, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, and of course snowmen.  Natalie gives Jeremy a little quiz on the Classic 1969 television special Frosty the Snowman.  Is it a button or a carrot for that nose?  Coming soon… more discussion on the role of snowmen and the perfect way to build one, and how they show up in lots of strange places.