The Dick Summer Connection – December 7, 2008

There’s Christmas music all over the radio again this year. The Eagle’s “Please come home for Christmas” is the fifth most played Christmas song on the radio this year. Number four is Andy Williams “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” “Feliz Navidad” by Jose Feliciano comes in at number three. Nat Cole’s “Christmas Song” is number two. And The most played Christmas song this year is Burl Ives’ “Holly Jolly Christmas.”All those artists had lots of hits in their careers. But the most popular Christmas song of all time was a one hit wonder. Lots of artists had one hit wonders. Gene Chandler who legally changed his name to “The Duke of Earl” never had another hit. And how about the Singing Nun? What a disappointment she must have had. She left the convent to pursue a singing career, and she never had another hit. And don’t forget the lawyer by the name of Frank Key. He couldn’t sleep one night, so he stayed up and composed his one big hit…the Star Spangled Banner. Then there were Mildred and Patti Hill…a couple of kindergarten teachers, who wrote the third most performed song ever composed in the English language…”Happy Birthday to You.”

The most popular Christmas song of all time is so beautiful, that for a long time lots of experts thought it must have been written by Beethoven. But they were wrong. Other experts said, “No it was Brahms.” Some said “Mozart…of course it was Mozart.” Wrong again Fruitcake Breath.

Christmas’s biggest hit was written on Christmas Eve 1816, in Oberndorf, Austria. Father Joseph Mohr wrote a poem that he wanted set to music for midnight mass. The church organist, Franz Gruber, said, “Ok.” He did a very simple arrangement, because the church organ wasn’t working, and the song would have only a single guitar for accompaniment. Franz and Josef sang the song together that night. Can you imagine…you write only one song in your life…and it’s “Silent Night.”

My Dad was a church organist in Brooklyn, New York. So I know what a big deal midnight mass is for guys like Herr Gruber. Dad had a huge choir…around 40 men, 50 women, and God knows how many kids. It was a big church…it’s a Basilica now. And right after Thanksgiving every year, Dad would double choir practices. And most of all, he would go to the dark church at night, and practice on the big five keyboard organ with the 32 foot tall pipes. Some nights he’d take me with him. I was just a little kid. We had to use flashlights to find the stairs because the church was dark, except for the candle that’s always kept burning by the altar.

It was cold too. Mom knit him a big black wool sweater to keep him warm when he practiced. He always finished his practice by playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. You probably know it. It features one of the lowest notes on the organ pedals, played at church rattling volume. Dad would look over at me just before he hit that note, and his little mustache would twitch. I think I enjoyed that more than a visit from St. Nick.

Dad’s musical talent skipped me. But three of our sons got their share. Our son Eric plays bass, guitar and sax professionally…our son Mark plays and teaches guitar and keyboards. And our son Dave has a degree in music as well as in computers. Dave plays everything. Well. He does a family Christmas album every year. He gave me the ok to post one of the cuts on the album in the current podcast.

I love Christmas. I’m not religious at all, but I really love Christmas. And I love Santa. Santa is the connector. But he gets a bum rap. He gets the blame for all the tasteless, crass, loud commercials for “the Biggest Sale of The Year.” He also has to take the fall for “Taking Christ out of Christmas.” And he deserves better.

Santa is the connector with who you were when you got your brand new electric trains…your first Christmas kiss…a sled…or a bike under the tree. And most important, Santa is the connector with the distinct and absolutely personal “tuck-you-in-so-Santa-can-come-with-his-reindeer-and-presents” feeling you remember from your Mom or Dad. And you can remember that so clearly…even if your Mom and Dad are only memories now. And Santa helps you pass all that feeling along to your kids…that absolutely safe and excited Santa feeling you had so long ago, every Silent Night.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping…he knows when you’re awake.” That means Santa is around all the time…and he’s paying attention to you. My Lady Wonder Wench says “Women have to talk twice as much as men, because men don’t pay attention the first time.” And she’s probably right. But Santa is there…all Christmas season…paying attention…day and night.

Thank you Santa.

Proud Podcast Participant Pastor Mike, as usual puts it as well as anything can be put. He says, ” I think the problem religious people and secular folks have over Christmas is that they don’t realize there are really 2 different celebrations going on at the same time. There is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and the joys and miracles of that wondrous night. But over the years, the story became ritualized, and made solemn; and it became a believe it or else scenario. The wonder, the joy, the significance of the gift we’d been given were lost. And people missed that. So they found other ways of expressing the joy the ritual had taken away in Christmas trees, and Santa, and Rudolph, and Frosty…and most of all in the giving of gifts, to honor the Greatest Gift. Religious people of course hated this. “They’re not real” they said. No, they’re not. But the truths they represent are. The generosity of Santa. The loyalty and courage of Rudolph. The magic and happiness of Frosty…those things are real. And we should bless them.”

Pastor Mike is my kind of Pastor.

Some people don’t believe in Santa Claus. They’ll tell you Christ was born in the spring, not on December 25. And they’re right. But the truth is, I really don’t care when Christ was born. I don’t even care if He was the “Son of God.” He gave us lots of good ideas, and lots of love. And I figure that even if you don’t believe in Christ at all, you have to admit that his birthday celebration is a blast. So is Hanukkah, Quanza, Solstice, and any other holiday that involves candles, music, getting people close together, some laughs that your really need, and a few tears you can’t help, good stuff to eat, and most important…some great loving.

I especially like that last part.

Would love to have your thoughts on Christmas. Send them to: ….  please.

And Merry Christmas.

2 Responses to “The Dick Summer Connection – December 7, 2008”

  1. Pastor Mike says:

    Once again, I’m blessed by having you use my words. My mom would be so proud!
    I get so frustrated by the narrow-minded who can’t see that people who understand Christmas, even our secular Christmas, are closer to finding the real God then they are. You think God minds being called Santa Claus? I don’t.
    Pastor Mike

  2. Jack Marshall says:

    Far be it from me to correct you about music – “cough cough” – but Gene Chandler was not a one hit wonder. Had a second major pop hit that reached #12 on the Billboard charts called “Groovy Situation”. I’d say a #12 song was a hit, wouldn’t you? 😉

    Why should I happen to remember it so well? Because it was when you and I were working together… July 1970. We even played the record. LOL!