New Year’s isn’t a very big deal in our household, but it’s still the octave of Christmas, so I’ll stick with decking the halls and cramming in as many holiday movies as possible before the rest of the world takes down the lights and packs away the wreaths.
Carols, of course, are one of my favorite aspects of celebrating the holidays (vying with baked goods and decorating the tree). The funny thing about carols, though, is that we often learn them long before we have enough command of the language to understand what they mean. This situation leads to no end of nonsensical lyrical constructions, but we probably don’t even realize it until we sit down and try to figure out what our childhood brains did to make words out of sounds we didn’t understand.
For instance, my mother tells me that as a kid I was convinced that “Away in a Manger” was about cats: “the cat-tle are lowing”—I don’t know what I thought “tle” meant.
I wondered why, in “What Child Is This,” we were urged to “haste, haste, to bring Him lard.”
I thought “we three kings” were from a place called Orientar.
It always confused me that “The First Noel” was the only place one ever heard “to certain” used as a verb (meaning “to reassure [poor shepherds in fields as they lay]”). I could get a pencil and paper right now and diagram that whole sentence as I understood it as a child, but it wouldn’t result in anything like its actual meaning.
I was probably about 15 before I realized that “Angels We Have Heard on High” was not a Caribbean song. How was I supposed to know that “in excelsis day-o” was not to be followed by “daylight come and me wanna go home”?
And yes, I also thought that “Deck the Halls” was a New Year’s song (see the title of this post). Because nobody uses “ye” nowadays.
Of course, it probably doesn’t matter that much, as long as we’ve got the Christmas spirit. No one really cares about a few malapropisms here and there. That is, no one cares until someone asks us to lead the caroling at the office Christmas party.
Fa la la la la, la la la la!