Thursday, December 24, 2009

Unsilent night

There's a line in Janet Frame's amazing short story Tiger, Tiger about "the dreadful meaning quiet of Christmas Eve".

Long before I ever thought much about New Zealand, I heard that story on the radio and fell in love with it. I must have read it twenty times since then, and to this day I'm still not sure whether I'm supposed to laugh or cry at the end. I usually end up crying, but smiling as well.

(You can find it in The Lagoon and other stories. I think I've bought six copies of that book so far.)

The DMQ of Christmas Eve is a time of waiting. Nothing more is going to happen before the big day. If you're a kid it means you go to bed and, depending on temperament, try to either go to sleep to make the morning come faster, or stay awake to see it early. If you're an adult, it means your deadline is here - all your preparations are made, for better or worse, and there's nothing more you can do before the big day. "Alea jacta est", as Julius Caesar doubtless said the night before Saturnalia.

This is the time - one of the very few times - when I actually like to hear Christmas carols.

Christmas music on the whole is a pain in the ears. When played in shops, malls and other public places it just makes me feel harrassed, like I'm being nagged. (In fact I'm starting to come down against all playing of recorded music in public places, thanks perhaps to my mother's influence. But that's a separate rant.) When played in someone's home at this time of year, it becomes a thoughtless, pointless noise: it makes me think that the person doesn't really care much about music, but just plays it for its associations.

There are three occasions when I'm open to Christmas music.

One is at any Christmas party where there are strangers and colleagues and other people you wouldn't normally mix with from choice. In those cases it's a social lubricant, like alcohol but cheaper.

One is when it's being sung, live, by people - preferably children - with good voices who have put some thought and practice into what they're doing. Carol concerts - lovely. Carol singers performing in public - heartwarming. Decrepit glam rockers performing their own hit from 30 years ago - exhilarating. Any of the above recorded and replayed the next day - soulless and flat.

And the third is in the DMQ of CE. At that point I don't mind being nagged. For a few hours, although I might roll my eyes and mutter darkly about crimes against music, nothing can really dent my calm.

Although I'd rather hear silence.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

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