Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday: Northwest Christmas Music

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - It rained here today. It didn't just rain for an hour; it rained for essentially the whole day. This is normal in Seattle during the winter, which is to say during the holiday season. Thus, holiday lore about a "white Christmas" does not seem particularly relevant in the Pacific Northwest--and neither is it especially welcome, since the region is so unprepared for its occasional snowfalls that if there is a white Christmas, everyone's plans are generally ruined.

This sentiment is reflected in the regional holiday music that has gained popularity over the years. Probably the quintessential Seattle Christmas song is Brenda Kutz White's Christmas in the Northwest. Originally released in 1985 as a fundraiser for Children's Hospital in Seattle, it eschews the idea of a white Christmas, noting that the holiday "Is a gift God wrapped in green." The ideas of sharing--relatively emphasized in the Pacific Northwest at any time of year compared with the rest of the country--and dreaming is mentioned several times. The song has been released multiple times, remains commercially available, and is consistently one of the most requested songs on the local all-Christmas radio station, Warm 106.9 FM.

While not as widely distributed, there is another Seattle holiday song that more directly addresses the weather. Released in 2003, the Pysht River Troubadours' Let's Have a Seattle Christmas does nothing except describe the downpours. It includes the line "There's so much water, it won't drain." There are references to the weathermen on each of Seattle's major television stations, the late Seattle Mariners baseball announcer Dave Niehaus, and even that Santa will need to trade his reindeer "for a Husky-powered hydroplane," which may the ultimate in local references. To me, nothing captures the local climate reality better than this song.

The song regarded (at least by Amazon--which as a locally-based business ought to know) as the most popular in the Pacific Northwest radio history actually has nothing to do with the region or its weather. Recorded in Swansea, Wales in 1981 by the Cory Band and the Gwalia Singers, Stop the Cavalry had been written by Jona Lewie about soldiers away from their families at wartime. It seems to have been lost to history who first played the song in Seattle, but by the mid-1980's, it had become a holiday staple on just about every station from KOMO to KLSY. If one wants to establish credibility as a northwest resident in past quarter-century, it's Stop the Cavalry, not Christmas in the Northwest, that one should bring up as the unique holiday song of the region.

Personally, especially on a day like today, it's "Let's Have a Seattle Christmas" that really resonates--"Get out the lifeboats and the dinghys, Captain, it's a Grand Tsunami... 'cause it doesn't just rain on Christmas, it's every day, every day, every day."

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