WASHINGTON RTC — Washington. -- Late Christmas night I sat reflecting, like a pooped-out Santa Claus, in a room that was dark except for the flickering glow of blue and white lights on a bush outside my window. I was jarred suddenly by the realization that I had sung aloud, to myself, over and over again, these words:
''Hang a shining star upon the highest bough, And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.''
Those lines from 1944, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, had had me in their grip for days.
Suddenly I was telling myself that America's music is what makes this country so different from the rest of the world. I was thinking that there can't be another society that creates so many holidays and uses them as a reason to write songs to be sung with spirit and passion, in times good or bad.
Yes! Haven't you noticed that in war and peace, in tranquillity or the muck of political and social conflict, America keeps a song in its heart?
People of other lands sing all the traditional religious songs of Christmas. But where else does an Irving Berlin mix snow with children, sleigh bells and Christmas cards and produce a song called ''White Christmas'' that will be sung forever?
Who in this lifetime will lose the imagery of Nat King Cole crooning ''The Christmas Song''?: '' . . . every mother's child is gonna spy, To see if reindeer really know how to fly.''
I sat in the shadows of my dining room, suddenly appalled that I hadn't heard on any radio or TV station one of my favorite Christmas songs, a funky version of ''I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.''
Holidays, harmony, hearts throbbing! Let your brain follow your calendar and try to figure out how many millions of Americans, people you know, wound up married because they sang or listened to the fetching lyric, ''What are you doing New Year's, New Year's Eve''?
February would be a dreadful month, especially for those of us in the northern hemisphere, if Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart had not warmed our hearts and hormones with ''My funny valentine, sweet comic valentine. Stay little valentine stay! Each day is Valentine's Day.'' Ah, yes!
Only those who have claimed abuse by a ''Dearest Mommy'' have failed to sing on some Mother's Day the sentimental 1915 classic, ''M-O-T-H-E-R. . . .'': '' 'M' is for the million things she gave me . . .''
And don't forget that marvelously romantic holiday, Easter Sunday. Irving Berlin has had a zillion women putting on an Easter bonnet believing that ''a photographer will snap you, and you'll find that you're in the rotogravure.'' Great holiday melodies and lyrics inspire universal dreams, even among women who don't know what ''rotogravure'' means.
We have a surfeit of songs rolling off our tongues on July 4, Independence Day, but none more rousing than George M. Cohan's immortal ''You're a Grand Old Flag . . . You're the emblem of the land I love, The home of the free and the brave.''
And come Thanksgiving Day, even if hard times linger and more of us suddenly know the shock of joblessness, when no eyes can avoid seeing the hungry and homeless, we Americans still will sing about ''amber waves of grain . . . above the fruited plain'' in ''America the Beautiful.'' And we will realize anew how economically blessed most in this country are.
I have written before, at the death of the great music man Johnny Mercer, that if you want me to judge a nation, let me see the products of its popular songwriters. My Christmas reflections about the songs of our holidays reinforce my belief that the very soul of America lies in its unique embrace of great words set to music.
5) Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.