Welcome to my Christmas song
I’d like to thank you for the year
I somehow never heard Elton John’s “Step Into Christmas” before 2014. I don’t know how I missed it for forty Christmases. When I finally did, it came as this lovely discovery of middle age. It’s such a happy song, with a vision of the season, wry and sincere at the same time, relishing the past and looking forward to the future. When the ad nauseum Christmas music radio stations play it, I turn it up. I love that song.
What could this awesome song have been like in context? When was it was first released?
“Step Into Christmas” was released in the Christmas season of 1973.
I’d like to sing about all the things
Your eyes and mind can see
In the United States, in December of 1973, Richard Nixon clung to power. The Watergate scandal had progressed far enough that the administration no longer had the slightest shred of credibility, but there was no leverage and no support for forcing the president from office. The American government shuffled on zombielike, unable to do much of anything. The economy, which just a decade before had seemed to have solved the problem of eternal prosperity, was about to enter a two-year long recession, the worst since the Thirties, introducing the previously-thought-to-be-impossible concept of “stagflation”. That October, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, the Arab nations had slammed an oil embargo on those Western nations that had favored Israel. America froze in the dark.
In Britain, things were worse. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were in their most terrible years. Fratricide reigned across the province while IRA bombs punctured England. British industry, suffering since the war, began to crumble. Inflation, rampant before the oil embargo, soared afterwards. At the end of the year, the Heath government, struggling to hold on, was forced to declare a three-day work week to conserve energy.
And here we have Elton John, thanking us for the year. What was wrong with him?
Take care in all you do next year
And keep smiling through the days
Let us advance forward to Christmastime 2017, and things don’t look good. I’ve got to be honest, folks: I’m nervous. We seem to slipping toward a period of social and economic chaos. Some folks are volunteering to be the irresistible force, others are signing up to be the immovable object, and everyone concerned has a whole lotta guns. Those with blood on their minds are just waiting for opportunity. Usually, my historian’s eye is a comfort, allowing me to see thing in the proportion of the long term. This time, using that eye, it looks like things are headed in the wrong direction.
But I try to remember that what seemed like a blank wall in 1973 turned out to be a waystation. History didn’t stop; it kept going. Nixon fell. Inflation—eventually–went away. The power of OPEC evaporated. In place of the things that seemed so important in 1973 rose unexpected new phenomenon: Personal computers. Militant Islam. LGBT rights. Modern finance.
We can’t tell what’s going to happen. Time is a three-card monte dealer. Often what we anticipate most leaves us with our jaws down, asking “Wait—what was that?”
I’m not saying “Everything’s going to be OK.” Sometimes it’s not OK. Sometimes it really is Warsaw in the Spring of ’39. Sometimes it really is Beijing, New Year’s 1966.
But here’s the trick: sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the Soviet Union packs up and goes home without a fight. Sometimes the Club of Rome predictions are completely off.
The one thing in our age on which you can count is change, and things can’t always change for the worse. It’s statistically impossible. Given a constant amount of change, some thing have to get better.
So for now, be of good cheer. Because sooner or later, there’ll be a reason.
So merry Christmas one and all
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than asking you if you’d oblige
Stepping into Christmas with me
In that vein, I say: you—yes, you, the person reading this, I am pointing my finger directly at you—you are a blessing. A blessing and a joy. It is an honor to share an era with you. We don’t get to pick our eras. They are inflicted upon us. But as long as I have such as you alongside me, I will rejoice.
You—again, I am talking directly to you—are a fantastic object, made up of epochal time, of remarkable permutations. I am constantly dumbfounded by how marvelous you are, how marvelous are each of us walking the sidewalks here in the second decade of the 21st century.
What will happen this coming year, we can’t know. Maybe something good, maybe something bad, but in all probability both, twined in ways we could never predict. Let us sing as it manifests.
Play it, Elton!
Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever!
Ah, step into Christmas!
Forever and ever!