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Jangled all the way

Back before Christmas a newspaper piece told about these people who didn't want their children to sing Christmas carols in the public schools at Christmastime. The thought crossed my mind that Christmas was as good a time as any to sing Christmas carols, and that some people are awful hard to get along with, but the part of the story that straightened me up was that ''Jingle Bells'' is all right for Christmas - it's the evil old things like ''Hark the Herald . . .'' that are destroying the American Way.

This threw me, a devout and persistent enemy of ''Jingle Bells'' at Christmas time, into a tizzy of confusion. How did Jingle Bells ever get accepted, even obliquely, as Christmas music? Sure, it's singable, and jolly, and real ho-ho-ho , but it's not a carol and never was, and yet it's about to be cited before the Supreme Court as the kind of Christmas music that doesn't offend people who are offended by Christmas music. Maybe you'd better read that again. That chap who wrote ''Jingle Bells,'' name of Pierpont, lived in Medford, suburban to Boston, and he didn't have a piano. (Compare this with the way an Austrian priest wrote ''Silent Night'' in a snowstorm.) In those days there was but one piano in all of Medford. Things are better now, and they tell me Medford has three of them. But this Pierpont could set a note down on paper and sort of hear it with his eyes, so he didn't need a piano. So he took a new tune he'd done across town to a music teacher who had the piano, and he said, ''This is a cute little sleighing song - play it and let's hear what it sounds like.'' He never had the slightest thought of a Christmas tune and it never entered his head that one day certain people would consider it preferable to ''O Holy Night.''

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Humankind might have learned a good lesson in the time of Herod the King, but nobody heeded, and we've gone along with inquisitions and persecutions and lopping off the heads of Charles the Firsts and baiting Quakers, hoorawing Cotton Mathers, and nit-picking Christmas carols. All on the ''Jingle Bells'' level. Makes me kind of proud to admit that in my extreme youth I was infused with understanding by the good Father Sean Skerry, who taught me the catechism. Down the street lived my playmate. Every Staurday his mother would give him five cents and he would go to the rectory of the Church of S. F. Xavier, where Father Skerry would ''hear'' his catechism lesson. We couldn't play until after this chore, so I would go along and sit on a chair in the corner while Father Skerry officiated. Afterwards, my chum and I would go to the brook for a swim, or to the beaver flowage for trout, or to play scrub, or to swipe apples, or to pelt somebody's washing, or to fly kites, or to pick blackberries, and generally indulge in the routine pleasures of good Christian boys who are not encumbered by doctrinal differences and theological disputations. Now, my playmate was a slow study, so by exposure I mastered the catechism long before he did and I never handed the good father a red cent. I used to repeat the catechism to my Jersey cow during the ceremony of lactation, and it soothed her. She also liked ''Paul Revere's Ride'' and ''Young Lochinvar.'' It would be years later before I wondered what Father Skerry would have thought about this, had he known. It goes to show the wisdom of tolerance and the virtue of understanding. Cows are not spiritually selective.

Do you recall the two Free Will churches in Orland? Orland is a small town, and visitors used to wonder why it supported two Free Will churches, one across the street from the other. The answer was that formerly there had been but one church. There had arisen a difference of opinion, a schism in doctrine, a dispute, and a separation. One group believed that Balaam's ass turned and spoke to him like a man. The other group believed that Balaam said his ass turned and spoke to him like a man.

The acceptance of non-Christmas ''Jingle Bells'' as Christmas music suitable for non-Christmas programs for Christmas is not quite unique in human logic. Take the atheist community out in Oregon. In the early days of Oregon a number of atheists settled a community, and soon after were joined by some Christians until the population ran about 50-50. Then the little atheist children came home to ask their parents why they couldn't have a Sunday School - all the little Christian children went to Sunday School, and the atheists had no place to go. So an atheist Sunday School was establised.

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