Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I like almost everything about Christmas. I like the carols, Handel's Messiah, the decorations, giving presents, eggnog lattes, turkey, and of course the time off. I don't like working over the holidays however I have enough colleagues with large mortgages or ex-wives who are "happy" to work over the season that I don't actually work much at Christmas. The great thing about Christmas is how we more or less shut down society for 2 weeks and nothing bad really happens.

There is one aspect of Christmas that I always disliked and fortunately no longer have to deal with.

The school Christmas concert.

I told this to my wife over dinner last week and started an argument. I don't know why, I always went cheerfully; frequently I had to sell my soul in order to get out of call or get someone to take over my long case but I never missed a single Christmas concert.

I should clarify, as a musician, I always appreciated the band concerts at Christmas. They were universally of good quality and I like to think that most of the kids were actually enjoying themselves.

It is the elementary school concerts I dreaded. Those combinations of bad singing, acting and dancing lasting about 2 hours. I now realize that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This means that as the days get shorter and I start coming to and going from work in the dark (and usually spending the day in a windowless room), at best I feel tired, at worst I feel depressed and crabby. Therefore at the end of a day, the last thing I really want to do is to get dressed up,rush (these concerts usually start before 1830)and sit on an uncomfortable chair for 2 hours watching for the most part other people's kids. Worse was when we had kids in two different schools; not only did we have two concerts but we had to drag the uninterested sibling along as well.

A couple of years ago, the music teacher at our local elementary school decided for various reasons she did not want to have a Christmas concert that year. Since she was the one who was going to have to arrange it in her own personal time, I could understand her position. At the same time I had the sensation of elation of being released from some weight on my soul. Other parents in our neighbourhood were less impressed although I think a silent (largely male) majority agreed with me.

The major thing is that the kids really don't enjoy them either. After a frosty ride home because of the argument I started, my 20 year old met us at the door. "So", I asked him, "All those Christmas concerts; did you really enjoy them?". "Are you kidding?" replied my son, "I hated every minute of them". My wife was actually surprised.

When I was younger we had what we called Christmas assemblies. These were held during school hours; no self respecting teacher in the 1960s was going to come in for the evening. They were attended mostly by our mothers. Back in the 1960s nobody's mother worked (at least not outside of the home for pay). In case I ever go into politics, I'm not saying that this was a good thing. These "concerts" were for the most part benign and we got out of an hour of classes.

There was one exception. The year I was in Grade 5.

Our large baby boom school was from Grade 1-7 and was divided into Grades 1-3 and 4-7 for purposes of assemblies. That year it was decided by someone, that at the Grade 4-7 assembly the massed "choir" would sing "Go Tell it on the Mountain". This not being a common carol, we had to learn it. In order to do so, for 2 consecutive days all the classes assembled in the gym to be taught the song by Mrs. Leacock.

Mrs. Leacock taught Grade 7. She had bright red hair, was heavily made up and wore an amount of perfume that even in the 1960s was excessive. As I later figured out she was probably boinking the Vice Principal. She had a really bad temper and liked to yell. Her days on playground patrol usually resulted in a steady stream of children being sent to the principal's office. From Grade one onward, I dreaded that I would be in her class in Grade 7, (fortunately she transferred to another school to join her lover, who had been promoted to principal there, after I was in Grade 6).

Just to get us in the Christmas spirit, before the first rehearsal, the principal informed us that anybody who misbehaved would be sent out and that would mean getting the STRAP. With Mrs. Leacock, looking at her the wrong way could be construed as misbehaving.

For the two hours over 2 days we sat terrified on the floor of gym while Mrs. Leacock pranced histrionically in front of us, cajoling us to sing. We survived, only one person got sent to the office and we sang the song for our mothers at the assembly.

And to this day I hate that song.


burnttoast said...

In the U.S., the entire holiday is so politically stilted that some schools are giving up. How can you compose a diverse multi-ethnic nonreligious (or worse, the token swipe at being inclusive, say one Hanukkah ditty) musical event? Deleting the torture of those bleachers is one of the few fallouts from politically correct dogma that I endorse. My kids are out of the age group too. How about the stupid Medical Staff meeting? Our hospital has its annual BIG dinner for staff 2 weeks before Christmas. I have never gone. Why do we have all these parties at the most time stressed time of year? Why not have them in March, when we could use a good party? Happy Merry Season's Whatever to you

Bleeding Heart said...

I didn't mention the secularization of Christmas and the way schools had to dance around this even including the Catholic Schools my kids went to for a few years. At the other extreme, one year the Christmas Concert was tacked onto a Mass which I thought was a really dirty trick.

Our hospital canceled the Christmas medical staff dinner as a cost saving measure. I had never gone anyway. They also have canceled the free cafeteria meal for staff who have to work Christmas and Boxing day which probably cost a few thousands of dollars and was worth much more in the goodwill of the staff.