Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Power of "White Christmas" (from Jody Rosen's book on the subject)



I recently checked out Judy Rosen's loving tribute to Irving Berlin's perennial classic so that I could write a proper blog post on this massively popular classic before Christmas. But here it is, one week before the big day and to make matters worse, I haven't so far gotten past the long paragraph on page eight that beautifully distills the power of this song. Perhaps I'll get around to reading the entire book before Saturday but until then, here is something to tide you over:

"The song's power transcends it's sales figures [31 million "copies"] and commercial ubiquity. With "White Christmas," Berlin created an anthem that spoke eloquently to its historical moment, offering a comforting Christmastime vision to a nation frightened and bewildered by the Second World War ["Holiday Inn," the song's first vehicle, premiered late summer, 1942]. But it also resonated with some of the deepest strains in American culture: yearning for an idealized New England past, belief in the ecumenical magic of "merry and bright" Christmas season, pining for the sanctuaries of home and hearth. Its dreamy scenery belongs to the same tradition as Currier and Ives's landscapes and Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." The song's images of sleigh rides and falling snow and eager children capture the mythic essence of the American Christmas. "White Christmas" seems to have always existed, lurking, as one Berlin biographer has written, "just beneath the surface of national consciousness." Indeed, in writing "White Christmas," Berlin lit on a universal idea;: the longing for Christmas snowfall, now keely felt everywhere from New Hampshire to New Guinea, seems to have originated with Berlin's song. It can safely be said that London bookmakers didn't offer odds on the possibility of a white Christmas prior to "White Christmas."

From White Christmas: The Story of an American Song by Jody Rosen, page 8.

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