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Mistletoe or missing toe?

What you think you're hearing at Christmas.
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Christmas lyrics lead to laughs

“The lefse song, mommy, the lefse song,” implored my then 3-year-old as we were deciding which music to play while we tackled some holiday baking. I had no idea what she was referring to since I didn’t know any songs about lefse, so I chose some music at random.

 I got the girls set up with their ingredients and we began chopping and stirring and several minutes into the task my youngest daughter’s eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “The lefse song, the lefse song!” I paused to listen to her sing along and smiled as Celine Dion’s “God bless us, everyone” had now become, “God, lefse, everyone.” Clearly, we had spent way too much time talking about a particular Norwegian tradition.

Getting seasonal song lyrics wrong is quite common. Mondegreens - the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase -gives it a new meaning. They occur most often in poems or songs when the listener is unable to clearly hear a lyric so they substitute words that sound similar. Consider these ones submitted to a radio station by people who tattled on their family or friends who were heard singing: “See the grazing mule before us”; “Ho ho the missing toe”; “Deck the halls with Buddy Holly”; “Frosty the snowman is a ferret elf they say”; “Oh what fun it is to ride with one horse, soap and hay” and the person who didn’t quite get the idea they were supposed to be singing in Spanish and instead sang, “Fleas on the dog.”

Those may be the ones we got wrong. But what about the ones we get right. The problem there isn’t in interpretation—the problem is with expectation. Consider the sentiments expressed in songs we hear over and over this time of year: “If you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home”; “Please come home for Christmas”; or “Won't be the same if you're not here with me.”

The ideas of home and Christmas have become so intertwined it would seem to suggest that if you can’t be home, the season just won’t measure up. In 1943 the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” poignantly expressed the feelings of those who were separated from loved ones by war and had to spend Christmas away from home. Josh Groban’s version in 2007 became notable for helping comfort those fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There have been a lot of songs written that express more painful sentiments around the holidays. These songs tackle the loneliness, heart break, poverty, and isolation that exist all year long but seem particularly painful when so much focus is on home, hearth, abundance and the picture of happiness. Trying to deal with the realities of brokenness when all around are expectations of perfection, can cause an individual or a family to fear that, yet again, what they can offer is unworthy.

But let’s think for a moment about the central players in the actual event more than 2000 years ago. Mary and Joseph weren’t gathered around the hearth or putting finishing touches to a nursery. They were away from home; separated from family; taking shelter in the only place available to them—a place intended for animals. Yet in the intervening years we have aggrandized our notions of celebration to such an extent we think there needs to be containers full of baking in the freezer, an abundance of gifts under the tree, ornate decorations decking the halls, and luxurious linens on the guest beds. Such opulence is a far cry from the humbleness of that first Christmas, and contemporary sets of expectations can distract us from where our focus ought to be.

If the notions of home and Christmas blend in special ways it is indeed something to recognize as a blessing because think, for just a moment, of all those who can't say the same. As we look forward to home, hearth and happiness, let's remember that because of the miracle of Christmas this can also be a season of hope, healing and humility. Joy to the world! The Lord is come. And that's no misinterpretation. That's my outlook.


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