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December – Week 1 – Art of the Holidays

It’s December! Which means it’s time for the second deep dive of this year’s Daily Hart Challenge. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m in the mood for something light. Don’t get me wrong. I loved last month’s deep dive. Classical Persian poetry turned out to be so much more fascinating than I ever thought it could be. But it was also a very dense subject my first time out. So this month, we’re going a bit more light-hearted and doing a deep dive into art of the holidays. Specifically, all of the holidays that fall into December. Turns out, there’s a lot more of them than I thought.

For me, the first holiday that comes to mind in December is Christmas. I was raised celebrating Christmas, and I have a deep well of warm and fuzzy feelings when it comes to Christmas movies, songs, and stories. For example, I will always make time every December to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol, Home Alone, and Miracle of 34th Street. I will always tear up slightly whenever I hear “O Holy Night”. And I will read The Polar Express every Christmas Eve until the day I die. That being said, I also know very little about the history of holiday art. Which means this year’s challenge is the perfect opportunity to learn more.

This week, I did a little bit of research into Christmas songs. Specifically, where did they come from? Well, as it turns out, the first Christmas hymns date back to the 4th century in Rome, with more traditional Christmas songs becoming widespread during the Middle Ages. These were all based off of Bible verses, and their authors are unknown. The famous composer Handel published the first book of Christmas carols in the 1700s, and in the 1800s, church songs such as “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night” started to become popular. The first secular Christmas song, “Jingle Bells”, debuted in 1857, although this classic was originally written for Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, after “Jingle Bells”, there was a bit of a lull in the creation of holiday songs. It wasn’t until the 30s, 40s, and 50s that the genre took off again. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “The Christmas Song”, “White Christmas”, and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” all debuted during this time. It’s now called the Golden Age of holiday songs. For good reason I’d say. Later, in the 1980s, pop music started to get in on the act with the release of songs like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Last Christmas”. This continued through the 90s (“All I Want for Christmas is You”) and 2000s (N’SYNC’s Home for Christmas enjoyed steady play in my teen years). Today, dozens of Christmas albums are released every year by artists all over the world. And I’m not the least bit sad about that.

So what did I listen to this week? Well, first up there was “Snow Candy” by Starship Planet. Because yes, K-pop does Christmas too. I then listened to “Betelehemu” from Nigeria, which was stunningly beautiful. I also watched the short film On the Twelfth Day by Wendy Toye, which was a hilarious exercise in physical comedy. And then came the Christmas rom coms.

Look. Full disclosure. I have spent years disparaging the annual tradition of cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. But 2021 has been another rough year for all of us, and this year I just wanted some cheese. So this week I watched both Single all the Way and A Castle for Christmas on Netflix. And both were absolutely delightful, incredibly fluffy, and exactly what I wanted to watch. I highly recommend both of them. Especially Single all the Way. Jennifer Coolidge’s meta asides were hilarious, Kathy Najimy’s overeager PFLAG mom was adorable, and Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers’ chemistry was off the charts. Loved it.

But Christmas wasn’t the only holiday art that I looked at this week. This week also marks the celebration of Hanukkah. Not to mention my realization of just how little I know about this holiday. I will be talking more about it next week. However, I did do a search for Hanukkah songs this past week, and I was amazed at how much I found. I listened to “Give You Everything” by Buzzy Lee, and there will definitely be more to come in the weeks ahead. I also came across a painting by Marie Vorobieff Marevna (featured image). It’s titled “Hasidic Dance During the Hanukkah Celebration” and it’s beautiful. I love the use of shapes and shadows to convey the closeness of the subjects.

That’s all for this week, but we are just getting started. There are so many more holidays in December to learn about, and so much more art of the holidays to discover. See you next week!

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!