'Tis the season for holiday songs, decor, trees ... and a Bush, by John McGauley

Okay, who’s responsible for getting this year’s Christmas tree that stands in Central Square in Keene?

Well, you did a damn good job; it’s the best-looking one we’ve had in my memory. It’s on a smaller, human scale and perfectly shaped. Lovely. In the past we’ve had fat ones, scraggly ones, lopsided ones and a couple that were ravaged by squirrels.

Here’s a lot of Christmas stuff that I’d like to discuss:

A Cleveland radio station banned the Christmastime song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” I’m not one to usually side with the PC police, but finally someone recognized what I’ve always thought, that the song is about date rape. Dean Martin, who I believe is a better singer than both Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, first recorded it in 1959. Jettison “Santa Baby,” too, both songs are creepy and cloying, relics of the odious “Mad Men” era.

Did you know that Elvis Presley’s Christmas album has sold the most copies of any holiday album — 10 million? No artist has come even close to that. When I hear him sing “Blue Christmas,” I hum the tune in my head for hours afterwards and have the urge to book a ticket to Memphis or drive to Tupelo.

I had no idea that Bob Dylan released a Christmas album. But he has. So have Snoop Dog and Twisted Sister and … David Hasselhoff? Oh, the humanity!

We went to the Mavericks’ concert at The Colonial Theatre last Saturday and the first half consisted of their versions of Christmas songs, as part of a promotion of their new Christmas album. They did a bang-up job on Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.” By the way, Feliciano is 73 years old and still touring the world; he’ll be playing at, of all places, the Vatican, on Dec. 15 in the pope’s charity concert to benefit refugees in Iraq and Uganda. You think that venue has a mosh pit?

Speaking of the Mavericks’ concert in town, later that night there was a fire across the street from The Colonial at the Fairfield Inn on Main Street, and the hotel was evacuated, with most of its guests relocated to the nearby Marriott. Someone got their signals crossed, however, and the Mavericks, an ensemble act that consists of eight musicians, were hustled over to Hundred Nights. That’s a joke, of course; I have no idea where the band stayed that night.

I don’t usually go to Christmas craft fairs, but under duress I slogged through a few last weekend. My favorite items are usually the snowscapes painted on saws. I bought a knitted hat, too, only later to find out it’s a toilet paper cover. My idea of hell is an infinite progression of visits to craft fairs, followed by two hours in Ulta, capped off by stay at the bra and underpants department at J.C. Penney. By the way, did you know that women’s undergarment sections in department stores used to be called “Foundations?” I think that’s a hilarious euphemism.

Somebody emailed me to say that he thought Brattleboro’s downtown Christmas displays put to shame what we have here in Keene. I drove to Brattleboro to check that out, and would say that it’s not better than Keene’s, it’s just really different. Brattleboro’s array of decorations has a honyawkey feel about it, maybe something a city would have done in the early 1950s with garish green and red lighting and a big banner across its main street. By the way, honyawkey is a Chicago term that means, well, overdone and kind of hillbilly. But I like it, it fits that town very well, just as our more conservative display fits Keene.

Oh, yeah, it’s the season for the tiresome subject of whether to say “happy holidays” or “merry Christmas.” My rule of thumb is to say happy holidays if the person I’m speaking with is wearing a yarmulke or dashiki. It’s very difficult to discern whether you’re speaking with an agnostic or atheist — although I’ve found that they both tend to wear pastel colors, so just take your pick and say either or both, or just mumble.

Another thing. The other day a friend shared with me on Facebook an old Far Side cartoon — remember those? It’s a drawing of the three wise men at the manger, with a fourth wise man walking away with one of those puzzled looks. The caption? “Unbeknownst to most theologians, there was a fourth wise man, who was turned away for bringing fruitcake.”

Every time I think of that cartoon, I laugh to myself. I wish Gary Larson hadn’t retired.

As an aside, although I think a lot of the Monty Python movie “Life of Brian” is sacrilegious, there’s one scene in the beginning where the three wise men arrive in Bethlehem, and get the wrong manger. I won’t tell you any more, you can YouTube it.

One final note, off subject. George H.W. Bush will be missed. He’s now perceived as the last “nice guy” president. He would have been elected to a second term if he’d never been caught on network news befuddled by the workings of a grocery store checkout counter and not knowing the price of milk, during a terribly botched campaign stop to show, falsely, he was an average, middle-class guy, which he wasn’t. Optics mean everything today, think of Michael Dukakis with that big helmet on, peering out of the top of that tank.

John McGauley, an author and local radio talk show host, writes from Keene. He can be contacted at mcgauleyink@gmail.com

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