In the New Old-Fashioned Way

brenda-leeBeing Christmas day, it’s worth mulling over the artful way in which the arbitrary, changeable present and the authoritative past can be linked together to lend the appearance of continuity and necessity — the result being what we otherwise call tradition.

As if all history led to us, putting us in synch with the ages.

Consider this now well-known Christmas song: Brenda Lee’s 1958 hit, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” (Aside: she was only 13 when she recorded it…)

Just what is “the new old-fashioned way”…?

It strikes me that the song is a great example of the way in which innovation, if tethered in just the right way to already known and valued referents, no longer strikes us as novel but, in this case, as but one more seasonal song from the authorized canon.

That the song dates to the early years of rock and roll, that rock and roll music was much frowned upon by arbiters of cultural legitimacy back then, can’t be lost in all this, of course. But…, it is lost, and it gives us “a sentimental feeling” — since the song nicely mixes its hip tune, the very notion of “rockin’ around the Christmas tree” and then-current youth references (for example, “hop” signifies the sock hop in the 1950s school gym) with the

Sock Hop 1957 (possibly ancient) tradition of kissing underneath the mistletoe, while twice quoting the already well-known lyrics to “Deck the Halls” — a song whose English lyrics date to the mid-19th century. Caroling and pumpkin pie (though now associated with Thanksgiving by many) get a mention too.

And voila, not just a hit but a Christmas classic is born, the result of a successful linkage in which virtually anything you do now counts as “new old fashioned” — so long as it is linked in just the right way to either a sufficient number of accepted markers or just one that’s of sufficient importance.

Like connecting almost anything to the idea Christmas itself.

Picture 6
Well… almost anything.

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