Home For The Holidays…

The holidays are approaching, and I am staying home.

As Covid-19 cases rise exponentially around the USA, we are being advised not to travel.

And to limit all gatherings to as few people as possible.

And to wear masks.

And to socialize outside if possible.

It’s very difficult not to spend time with loved ones, especially during the holiday season.

I’ll participate in a couple of Zoom gatherings on Thanksgiving and probably on Christmas, too.

Deep sigh…

I recorded this song by Robert Allen and Al Stillman a few years ago with pianist Doug Hammer at his studio north of Boston.

Composer Robert Allen and lyricist Al Stillman wrote several hits for Perry Como (Allen was his accompanist for many years) and also for Johnny Mathis — such as “It’s Not For Me To Say” and “Chances Are.”

Al Stillman also had a decades-long career as a staff writer at Radio City Music Hall.

Both of them were Jewish.

As I have written in past blog posts, a lot of my favorite holiday songs were written or co-written by Jewish songwriters — including “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin, “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks.

Most of these composers and lyricists were immigrants or the children of immigrants.

I think of these songs as valuable threads in the social fabric/history of the USA.

However, when I was mixing this particular song with Doug via Zoom earlier this month, one word in the lyrics jumped out at me in a new way.

Dixie.

This year’s activism in the USA has changed the way I hear certain words — such as “Dixie.”

According to an article I found on WRAL.com — a North Carolina TV station’s website — “historians disagree about the origins of the word ‘Dixie.'”

“Some believe it derives from the Mason-Dixon line, between Maryland and Pennsylvania (which) was drawn in 1767 to resolve a border dispute between the colonies but later became the informal border separating the South and North.”

Other historians trace the word “Dixie” back to $10 notes in Louisiana in the 1800s.

On the back of these notes was printed “dix” — which means ten in French — and the Citizens’ Bank of New Orleans issued many of these notes before the Civil War.

They became known as “Dixies.”

The word “Dixie” appears in a LOT of popular songs dating from the middle of the 19th century right through most of the 20th century.

“I Wish I Was In Dixie” a.k.a. “Dixie” was written by Daniel Decatur Emmett and published in 1859 — although some historians believe that Ohio-born Emmett appropriated/stole it from an African-American family (also from Ohio) who performed for many decades as the Snowden Family Band.

“Dixie” originally appeared in minstrel shows — a very popular form of entertainment in which white performers impersonated and made fun of black people using racist stereotypes — which Dan Emmett performed in and produced all around the USA.

Then it became a popular Confederate Army marching song and an unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy.

I was surprised to learn that it was also a favorite song of Abraham Lincoln (who was born in Kentucky) and that many different sets of lyrics for “Dixie” have been written over the years by people living north AND south of the Mason-Dixon line.

You can read a Wikipedia article about the song by clicking here.

After the Civil War, the word “Dixie” continued to turn up in popular songs — often written by northern songwriters who had never even visited the south.

It was usually used to evoke a mythical way of life full of relaxed pleasures while completely ignoring the horrific history of slavery (which happened not just in the southern states but all over the USA, including on an estate in Medford, MA, just a short bike ride away from where I live outside Boston).

This is why the musical group The Dixie Chicks (whose name I did not realize was in part a pun on a beloved album and song, “Dixie Chicken” by the rock band Little Feat) recently decided to rename themselves The Chicks.

This is also why commissioners in Florida’s Miami-Dade county voted unanimously earlier this year to rename sections of the Old Dixie Highway under their jurisdiction as the Harriet Tubman Highway in honor of the abolitionist who led many, many enslaved people to freedom.

So… as soon as Doug is comfortable hosting other human beings in his recording studio again, I am going to re-record the line in “Home For The Holidays” which mentions Dixie — singing “Georgia’s southern shore” instead of “Dixie’s southern shore.”

I will also continue to wear a face mask whenever I go outside.

And I will remain grateful to live in a state led by a governor — and a Republican at that! — who respects science and scientists.

And I will continue to light a candle for all of the folks we have lost to Covid-19 so far.

Deep breath in…

Deep breath out…

Thank you to all of the health care professionals and hospital support staff who take care of folks with Covid-19 — even the people who refuse to wear masks or respect the fact that we are living in a public health emergency.

Thank you to all of the essential workers who staff our food stores and deliver our packages.

Thank you to Al Stillman and Robert Allen for writing “Home For the Holidays.”

Thank you to Doug Hammer for his musical AND production skills.

Thank you to Pixabay for most of the beautiful images in this blog post.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this blog post.

May you have safe and loving holidays this year despite our current pandemic.

Another deep breath in…

And deep breath out…

50 thoughts on “Home For The Holidays…

    • Thank you for reading and listening and commenting and wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving! My favorite part about writing blog posts is what I learn in the process of writing them. I knew, for example, that i wanted to include that song, and I knew that the word “Dixie” carries increasingly negative cultural connotations/associations. But I, too, did not know anything about the word’s origin and history. Thanks to WIkipedia and other online sources, I learned not only about the word “Dixie” but also ended up reading about events leading up to our Civil War AND spent a fair amount of time with a map, reminding myself which states bordered which other states… Happy and healthy and restful holidays to you, too!

  1. Beautiful! That’s one of my favourite holiday songs.

    Yes. Deep breathing. There’s not much else we can do. The holidays will definitely be different this year. In Canada, we were fortunate to have our Thanksgiving under “a little bit more nomal” situations before the second wave of restrictions hit. Christmas will be a different story altogether.

    Thanks for an informative post. I had no idea about the origins of the word Dixie.

  2. Thank you for another interesting post and delightful song Will. I love many of the same holiday songs and they hold a special place in my heart and history. I actually disagree with the trend to rename everything, remove statues, flags, etc. In my opinion, the south and whole country have an ugly history that we must face and heal, not whitewash by stripping the symbols.

    • Hi, Brad! You are very welcome. Thank YOU for reading and listening and thinking and commenting to yet another one of my blog posts. I have heard people of color speak eloquently and heartfully about how certain names and monuments affect their daily lives on a regular/unceasing basis. So I tend to follow their lead about whether monuments ought to be put into museums, streets ought to be re-named, etc. We definitely still have a huge amount of healing to do in this country about many, many different strands of our history…

    • You are very welcome. Blessedly the research is a fingertip away thanks to ye olde internet. There is a third theory about the term “dixie” which is related to a slave-owner named Dixey or Dixie who lived either on Long Island or Manhattan in New York State and supposedly treated his enslaved workers well enough that when they were sold to work elsewhere, they wished that they could return to Dixey’s land. But there is little actual history to back this up — and sounds a lot to me like Northerners trying to justify our own participation in the horrible practice of slavery by making up a story about how enslaved people preferred to be enslaved in a northern rather than a southern state… Thank YOU for reading and listening to and commenting on another one of my blog posts!

    • Thank you for reading and listening and commenting, Andrea! Every time I write a post I end up learning something new. I lead a somewhat hermetic life these days with almost no socializing (although I did sit — well masked — for 20 minutes on a friend’s back porch last night to chat before picking up 100 postcards to personalize and send to possible voters in Georgia, encouraging them to make sure they are registered to vote…) I hope you remain well, too, during these challenging times!

    • Thank you for making time to read and listen and comment!!! And thank you for your good wishes, too. Let us all do our best to remain safe and well in the weeks ahead — and do our part to re-flatten the Covid-19 transmission curve!

  3. I love how you end your blog posts with a list of “I will” and “Thank you.” Always heartfelt. Thank goodness for the Jewish songwriters. Their music is so good that the songs remain as popular today as they were decades ago. They’re certainly my favorites. Hubby and I will stay home, too. We’ll be having FaceTime dinners with children, family, and friends. Best to you, Will!

  4. I’m glad you have your music in these times of disconnection and separation. Hard to imagine the holidays without family – our Thanksgiving was in early October and it felt strange not having members of our extended family here with us. Christmas will feel even stranger.
    Thanks also for that bit of musical and social history. This year has certainly taught us a lot about the history of racism in the US. Even I, a Black Canadian woman, have learned/relearned a lot. It’s helped me to understand – painfully – both the centuries-old struggle and heroism of Black Americans better.

    • Thank you for reading and listening and leaving a comment, Cynthia. Hurrah for Canadian Thanksgiving! I have traveled to Toronto in past Octobers to celebrate with old friends — but not in 2020… The more I learn about the brutal details of our country’s history, the more amazed I am by the “struggle and heroism of Black Americans.” A profound “aha” for me was watching a particularly eloquent video which went viral this summer and included the idea that we white Americans should be very grateful that Black Americans are seeking justice — not revenge. I often wonder if a deep-seated fear of revenge is what underlies so much of the ongoing racist behavior in our country — and so many white Americans’ fierce passion for guns and ammunition… Deep breath in. Deep breath out. And history gets coded, directly and indirectly, into our songs! I lead music classes with small children + their accompanying grownups two days each week. Some of the folk songs that were originally included in this particular educational experience — called Music Together — have been dropped after historical exploration revealed their racist roots. So much more to learn here on planet earth…

      • I hear you. Did you know that Marie Dressler is Canadian and revered in the county where she was born? I lived in that county and still have many friends there, but didn’t know about her singing ‘coon’ songs till I read your post.

      • I just went to WIkipedia to learn more about Marie Dressler… I am not surprised that she sang ‘coon’ songs since many, many white performers did — and also performed in blackface. Even stars at the peak of their careers in Hollywood such as Bing Crosby and Judy Garland filmed sequences in blackface for different movie projects! Another deep breath in. And deep breath out.

  5. Yes, keep breathing! And I love your idea of re-recording. Words matter. People like to say they don’t, but they so do. They get into our collective consciousness. I’m with you. Quiet holidays. This is one season. It will end. We’ll gather again. We just have to be patient and look within. And maybe I’ll play some of the gorgeous music you’ve provided as I sip my wine:).

    • Thank you for reading and listening and commenting! Hurrah for patience. One of my favorite examples of patience is a tree whose roots gradually crack the sidewalk above them as they grow bigger and deeper… Yes. Let us be patient until we can gather together again.

  6. Will, very interesting post! When I wrote my post about Thanksgiving, I was concerned that what I wrote might be upsetting because of the unusual situation this year. I struggled with it for a long time and shortened it considerably. Your post is very uplifting and you achieved just the right tone.
    All the best!

    • Thank you for your warm feedback, Cheryl! I appreciate you making time to read and listen to one of my blog posts. It has certainly been an usual year for many, many reasons…

  7. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is (if you’ll pardon the wordplay) one of the homiest holiday songs — simple, honest sentiment without being ‘corny.’ I like the way you pick up the tempo about one minute into the song.

    I wish you and yours a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

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