'Soundprint' examines this puzzling holiday


December 21, 1990|By Steve McKerrow

The trouble with Christmas, says host Larry Massett introducing the latest edition of the radio documentary "Soundprint," is that you must "put up with people telling you that you have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas."

Yet just what is the meaning of this holiday? After all, Massett points out, Dec. 25 became designated as the birthday of Jesus only in the 4th century and was superimposed on the birthday of a Persian sun god. Santa Claus was based upon a real Catholic bishop with red and white robes, reindeer came along in 1832 (with Clement Moore's "A Night Before Christmas") and Rudolph was born only in 1939 as a sales gimmick for Montgomery Ward.

Still, it is clear from "Tis the Season" (heard at 6 p.m. tomorrow on WJHU-FM 88.1 and repeating next Friday at the same hour), Christmas has a profound, if often puzzling, impact on the lives of people of all ages.

This is another in a fascinating series of explorations of American holiday celebrations by the locally produced series, which airs nationally on stations of the American Public Radio. Few listeners will fail to identify with some of the remembrances in a collage of voices. There's even a Hanukkah recollection, for the holiday is another inheritor of celebrations which all cultures seem to have built around the winter solstice.

It is nice to know some recordings heard in the show, kind of an audio verite of young children and parents singing and discussing Christmas, include the three-decades-old family archive recordings of producer Ginna Allison and her brother, Jay.

Like others in this series, the show includes a broad array of voices, both young and old and also representing America's melting pot-cultures. And it touches a number of chords that make Christmas a paradox.

An adult woman, for example, suggests she may never have recovered form learning Santa Claus was not real. A 36-year-old woman is upset that her mother wants to stop sending her a stocking-stuffer package at the holidays because she's too grown up.

Yet a young girl's voice says "I'm depressed. I'm supposed to be happy. It's the day after Christmas," voicing the holiday's inability to match its buildup.

A worker in a soup kitchen expresses gratitude at the holiday spirit which produces welcome volunteers but reminds that "people are hungry all the time."

Discussing the difficulty of selecting the right gift, a little girl notes acutely, "Now I can see why the parents are so tense." And as another girl talks of her gift list, the clack-clack of computer keys reveals she has logged the data on a disk for easy retrieval.

Still, the show ends sweetly, almost resignedly, as a 71-year-old man talks of still stringing his yule lights because "it takes me back to when I was a child. I still live it again."

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