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O palm tree, o palm tree in Phoenix

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE – Does Christmas season seem different to you this year?
I’ve noticed a difference so far. In the past we’ve seen grumpy old men complain about how Christmas has been stolen away from Christians and how Christmas is so commercial that the true meaning has been lost.
This year we hear every day about how well retail sales are going and how much higher they are over last year. And now, Black Friday has been augmented by Cyber Monday, and two weeks later, Green Monday.
But the biggest difference is the Republican presidential race. With caucuses and primary elections getting started immediately after the New Year, there doesn’t seem to be time for a Christmas break.
The airwaves are full of talk about who is ahead in the polls this week and who bombed the worst in the last debate. And then there are the negative ads for the presidential race.
Our primary isn’t until June but since New Mexicans almost always seem to predict the winner, candidates still want to influence us.
We’ll be spending Christmas in Phoenix again this year. That’s no big change. It’s easier on the kids and grandkids and our son-in-law usually is on call at Mayo Hospital on Christmas Day.
The difference this year is that Jeanette and I no longer look forward to a white Christmas.
It seems like every year, we have to fight the snow getting to Phoenix with a carload of gifts and pots of chile and posole.
We no longer dream with Irving Berlin about a white Christmas. Interestingly, the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, in Phoenix, claims Berlin wrote “White Christmas” while sitting beside its magnificent pool.
The verse of the song mentions orange and palm trees swaying but it also mentions being in Los Angeles where Berlin spent time writing movie scores.
The Biltmore claims Berlin also was known to stay at its hotel and write songs. The only reason he didn’t say Phoenix is that it doesn’t rhyme with much of anything.
The Biltmore has been a landmark for nearly 80 years and has hosted many stars. Its pool is said to have been Marilyn Monroe’s favorite. Many political events also are held there, including John McCain’s election night party.
New Yorkers, of course, say Berlin wrote the song there despite the orange and palm tree references. They contend that since Berlin didn’t read or write music, he composed on a piano, which would have been difficult by the pool.
Maybe Berlin wrote it both places. Since he wrote both words and music, he might have written the words by the Biltmore pool. Regardless, it has long been the world’s most popular song.
Berlin got the secular Christmas music tradition started on Tin Pan Alley with “White Christmas.” Numerous others followed during the 1940s, mostly written by Jewish songwriters.  They weren’t offended about Christmas. Many were immigrants, as was Berlin, and they were embracing everything American. And since America is majority Christian, they were willing to participate in the experience without partaking of the religious aspect.
Oh, that everyone could be that tolerant.
Actually, the observance of Christmas has had a mixed history in the United States. Early settlers on the East Coast strictly opposed Christmas celebrations because they encouraged public drunkenness, shooting and swearing.  
The attitude spread to mainstream churches. Throughout the 1800s, mainstream churches still were trying to hold the line on Christmas celebrations by not accepting the day as a holy one. And since the Bible doesn’t mention Dec. 25, the date must have been derived from pagan customs.
But gradually feelings began to change. Clement Clarke Moore’s “Visit from St. Nicolas” at mid-century gave a family feeling to Christmas.  By the early 1900s, the retail industry had caught on that Christmas could become a buying bonanza. It is now abundantly obvious where that has led.
Will Christmas always be celebrated in the manner it is now? We always have had a dynamic society. More change could be coming.
Jay Miller
insidethecapitol@hotmail.com