Apologies to Frank Loesser but one thing it’s not outside, baby, is cold.
Hasn’t been really cold for years, especially not in and around Toronto where almost 20 per cent of Canadians reside. As I write this, mere days before Christmas, in an office in downtown T.O., it’s 5 C outside, with rain, not snow predicted. What does snow look like anyhow? Environment Canada reports that Metro Toronto in the last 10 years has averaged a snowfall of only four centimetres per year.
Hogtown’s hardly alone. Montreal’s average annual snow depth is just eight cm. A quarter-century ago, Edmonton’s used to be 17, now it’s 11. Admittedly, the Alberta capital can still get eye-wateringly cold – on Dec. 13, 2009, it went down to minus 46 C – but such cold usually comes in snaps, a day here, four days there. In the winter of ’69 the city suffered a stretch where the temperature never warmed past minus 20 C for 26 consecutive days!
There is one realm, though, where cold – snowman-making cold – continues to hold imaginative sway, regardless of city and thermometer, and that’s in the Christmas songs we hear on the radio, in the shopping mall, at the school Christmas pageant and at home. In the real world, Jack Frost only rarely nips on our noses now but music programmers as well as contemporary songwriters don’t appear to have noticed. And while the weather outside may indeed be frightful, it’s not for the reasons Sammy Cahn itemized in Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Dreams, too, of a white Christmas are likely to be just that for many Canucks this year – a nostalgie de la neige – while those wishing “to frolic and play/the Eskimo way” and “conspire … by the fire” are best advised to mush to Timmins or Goose Bay, cities that still average more than 30 cm of the white stuff each year.
A couple of years ago my colleague Robert Everett-Green wrote a piece describing how a dedicated clutch of mostly Jewish songwriters from the late 1930s through the early ’50s wrote the Christmas songs we think have been around forever – The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Silver Bells, A Holly Jolly Christmas and Let It Snow! among them – and helped convince us that the best Christmas had to look and feel like something on a postcard from a Vermont ski resort.
Clearly there is an urgent need to bring the canon up to current climatic and other (i.e., multicultural) conditions. And who better to galvanize the effort, to ditch the one-horse sleigh once and for all, than our own ivory-tickler-in-chief, Stephen Harper? Admittedly, it’s too late in this season for that to happen. But next year he and Environment Minister Peter Kent need to gather stalwart musical friends like Tony Clement, Bryan Adams, Justin Bieber, Chad Kroeger and Avril Lavigne ’round the ol’ Steinway at 24 Sussex to work up some new seasonal tunes or recast the lyrics of some of the old ones.
To get them warmed up, here are some suggested titles: Dashing Through the Slush, I’m Dreaming of a Mild Saskatchewan, It’s Kwanzaa Time Again,Ain’t No Ice in the Ice Rink, Good Golly Diwali, Roasting Chestnuts on an Open Solar Panel, Not Bettin’ on Bettman and All I Want for Christmas Is a 24-Pack of Coppertone Sunscreen (SPF 50). You can forward yours to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 24 Sussex Dr., Ottawa ON, K1A 0A3.
Songs with real Yuletide cool
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! used to be a dare, as in “Go ahead and blizzard; nothing’s going to spoil our fun!” Now, of course, it’s a plea, as in “C’mon! Let it come down like it’s 1959!”
In the meantime, here’s a list of seasonal tunes so cool as to be weather-proof:
Reggae Christmas, Bryan Adams with Pee-wee Herman (1984)
Tinsel and Lights, Tracey Thorn (2012)
Please Come Home for Christmas, Charles Brown (1960)
Dear Mrs. Claus, Barr Brothers (2011)
This Is to Wish You a Merry, Merry Christmas, the Beatles (1969)
Soulful Christmas, James Brown (1968)
Fairytale of New York, the Pogues with Kirsty MacColl (1988)
The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole (1957)
River, CeeLo Green (2012)
Walking in the Air, Paul Auty (1982)
Maybe This Christmas, Ron Sexsmith (2010)