’Tis the season for holiday music. The stores and the radio are filled with Christmas music and I was thinking about one phrase in particular in the holiday classic, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” The simple phrase seems to epitomize the holidays for many of us if we are not careful. It goes like this: “He’s making a list And checking it twice….” Of course it goes on to address the fact that the list is used to confirm the behavior of children as Santa considers what he will bring. But if you are like me, I get stuck on the lists at this time of year. Mow the yard so we can put the lights out, put the lights out, move the furniture to make room for the tree, get out the tree, decorate the tree, fix that one strand of lights in the middle of the whole thing that is not working this year, shop and wrap and pack for this event or that one. The lists are long and can get overwhelming - and my lists rarely have anything to do with complicated things like food or clothing sizes, which is a whole other set of lists.
As I looked for the exact phrase in the song that mentioned the lists, I found an unexpected gem that might help all of us put the holidays in perspective. Many of us are familiar with Big Crosby’s 1943 version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” It is joyful and focused on children and toys, with phrases such as, “With little tin horns and little toy drums, Rooty toot toots and rummy tum tums, Santa Claus is comin’ to town.” Bing Crosby’s version leaves the listener with happy thoughts about toys and children, and unfortunately omits a deeper message in this song. It reminds me that we can easily miss the deeper meaning of the holidays when we focus only on ourselves and material things at Christmas.
In my search I found another longer version apparently recorded by Eddie Cantor. The song was written by John Frederick Coots and Haven Gillespie in 1932 and, according to Ace Collins in his book, “Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas,” the song was originally performed by Cantor for a nationwide radio audience at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1934. The final verses of the song I had never heard before speak to the compassion people had for others during this difficult season in American history. Interspersed with the refrain “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” we find the following lyrics: “The season is near for happiness time, gotta bring cheer with every last dime … We’ve gotta dig deep and cover the list, gotta see that nobody is missed …” It is evident that resources were scarce, but it was important that no person be left without a gift.
There are many wonderful charities and ministries that seek additional support from donors at this time of year. In addition to the daily sustenance they provide for many in our community, they “dig deep” to make sure that “nobody is missed” with special holiday food or gifts. The song continues, “Let’s keep the home fires burning, let’s give without a pause, let’s prove to those less fortunate that there is a Santa Claus.” Images of Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army red kettle come to mind when I think of how the people in our community step up to help those less fortunate at this time of year. The efforts extend well beyond these two charities as many organizations and churches encourage holiday generosity and faith-based compassion for others.
Immediately after encouraging listeners to give to the less fortunate, the song concludes with the words, “Oh the joy will be yours that wonderful day, knocking on doors and shouting hooray” Whether you are caught up in the human spirit of compassion for the less fortunate, or you are following the words “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” spoken by the Christ of Christmas, even the holiday classic “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” reminds us that joy is our reward for taking this opportunity to give well.
Guest columnist, Kyle Penney is president of East Texas Communities Foundation and a Chartered Adviser in Philanthropy. The mission of ETCF is to support philanthropy by providing simple ways for donors to achieve their long-term charitable goals. To learn more about ETCF or to discuss your charitable giving, contact Kyle at 866-533-3823 or email questions or comments to email@example.com. More information is available at www.etcf.org .