Mulhall column: Burning the old Yule Log
It seems as though the holiday season grows shorter as I grow older, yet somehow it manages to sneak in controversy just political enough to make the old Yule log burn with the odor of wet cottonwood.
For the past few years, that smell has arisen from a steady diet of the “preferred season greeting” debate. You know, the tired “Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” quandary. One side insists on inclusiveness – or something like that – and the other tradition.
“There’s twenty-nine holidays between November and January,” someone will say, “and yours isn’t the only one that counts.”
I nod agreeably and wish them ‘Merry Christmas’ anyway – though under my breath. Some conversations are best kept short.
Mercifully, this particular perennial annoyance appears to have taken the year off, or at least made room for something a bit different here in Colorado.
Earlier this month, Denver radio station KOSI placed a broadcasting moratorium on the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
The song’s a duet that satirizes the repartee that sometimes arises between a man and woman during courtship. According to one article on KOSI’s decision, “‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ is inappropriate for modern times due to its lyrics.”
To be fair, the song wasn’t written for Christmas. Frank Loesser wrote it in 1944, and it won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, risqué as it was at the time, after it was featured in the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, a romantic comedy about people working for a swimsuit design company.
With a cast that included among others Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalbán, and Red Skelton, the movie had nothing to do with Christmas, but “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” nevertheless gets a lot of mileage this time of year, perhaps because it’s set in winter.
How the song worked its way into the Christmas repertoire isn’t obvious, at least to me, but the 2003 Christmas movie “Elf” had to help.
In that movie, there’s a locker room shower scene in which Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) begins singing, “I really can’t stay, I gotta go away, This evening has been, So very nice…”
She’s a few bars in when Buddy the elf (Will Farrel) joins in. After another verse or two of the classic song echoing melodically off tiled walls, there’s that awkward moment when Jovie realizes she’s not imagining the male voice.
Despite this unexpected trespass, Buddy’s presence in the women’s locker room gets absolved, apparently because he’s an overly plump, androgynous character who self-identifies as an elf. And who can blame him, really? He was reared by a miniature Bob Newhart wearing a pointy hat and green tights.
Last week, after polling their audience whether to keep their “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” moratorium in force, KOSI reneged. The poll result was a bit one-sided, which I find encouraging.
The world offers plenty to grouse about and always will, and if you look at something critically for long enough and hard enough, you will find fault, particularly if fault’s what you’re looking for to begin with.
I find any more that it helps to dwell on good will. Usually it’s something small, like opening a door for a soon-to-be mother, or when the convenience store cashier smiles and waves me and my morning coffee by. It works both ways, and I gladly give or take kindness wherever I find it, no matter the time of year.
Perhaps that, or something a whole lot like it, is at once both the inclusiveness and the tradition of Christmas. Whether true, it’s at least a thought worth contemplating.
So while we’re on the subject, may your Yuletide hearth give off the aroma of cured cedar and warm these December nights for you and your families.
Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.