dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Frank Sinatra Busts a Rhyme

Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents.
— Frank Sinatra

The Chairman of the Board, of course.


While Camden (11), the oldest of our offspring, is mostly intellectually above it, our younger two—Kate (8) and Jackson (7)—still default to the notion that lyrical verse, for the most part, must be rhyming verse. This is especially evident in their whimsical free-form childish rap, where you will find them leaning heavily on the tried-and-true trappings of rhyme even as they try to find the time.

You see how easily this can be done when you're having a bit of...

Which brings me to 1957. Frank Sinatra records a Christmas song called "Mistletoe and Holly." It would become, in the annals of Americana, one prominent iteration of iconic holiday music. If you haven't experienced this form of magic, here it is:

However, I can't exactly remember hearing Sinatra's song (or falling under its enchanting sway) until, I think, sometime in my late 20s. This is, I imagine, a relatively shameful thing for a 40-something man to have to admit during this joyous season. A personal deficiency, if you will. You know, because of the wasted years.

So as most children are apt to do, I blame my parents. Not really. Well, actually, sort of.

By late middle school, other holiday songs had already fashioned my impressionable, conscious state of Christmas being. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, for instance, traditionally my mom would unearth her Christmas music collection, which included one of her all-time favorites: Once Upon a Christmas (1984) by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. If you haven't yet heard the resplendent sound of Kenny and Dolly bringing their celebrity to bear on Christmas, you really must. Straight away.

My siblings and I still argue to this day whether or not there is a bad cut on the record. There is not. But for my money, it doesn't get any more emotionally poignant than "Christmas Without You." (Although, because we're talking about Kenny and Dolly, I must clear something up: There is absolutely no truth to the rumors that the song is a metaphor for going a whole Christmas season without having some kind of elective surgery. Christmas without you.)

If you dare to taste sheer electricity between The Gambler and the founder of Dollywood, and especially if Kenny Rogers stuffing his face into a martini holds some intrigue for you...

During the college years, I typically categorized Christmas music as B.M.C. and A.M.C. Before Mariah Carey. After Mariah Carey. For obvious reasons, this categorization mildly annoyed my wife-to-be Amie.

For the sake of clarity, I'm referring to Ms. Carey's album Merry Christmas (1994), which featured a song that would eventually become a best-selling ringtone: "All I Want for Christmas Is You." Here was a passionate Christmas ballad—nay, a veritable anthem—that not a few guys my age thought was a sexually stirring ode of tender sweetness intended, quite specifically, for them.

I was different, naturally. I was not like those other guys. For one, I didn't maintain such naive delusions. I had real hopes, rooted as they were in self-perpetuating lies, which, yes, is the same thing as naive delusions. I can see that now; thank you.

Whether Ms. Carey was frolicking with Santa in the snow or gazing into the existential melancholy that is winter, or Christmas, either way I conspired to keep hope alive. Like Christmas itself, Ms. Carey's anthem became the true inspiration for my persistent believing.

Finally relinquishing my hopes of being the one Ms. Carey wanted, I was back on the open market in the late 1990s for a period-defining piece of holiday remembrance. It was precisely at this very vulnerable moment in my life that I fell headlong for Sinatra and his mesmerizing Christmas rhymes.

"Mistletoe and Holly" includes several truly killer rhymes with which, perhaps, you have already made a fond acquaintance. There is, for starters, the opener: Oh, by gosh, by golly, it's time for mistletoe and holly. Not to be outdone is the jealous cousin: Oh, by gosh, by jingle, it's time for carols and Kris Kringle. And soon enough you will happen upon some sticky-sweet nostalgia at the center of the post-war boom: Fancy ties and granny's pies. Per the usual, there must be an appearance of the mostly forced rhyme (and there is): Overeating, merry greetings.

I know.

But easily my personal favorite—the rhyme that literally makes me grin, looking around in glee at other coffee-shop people, who, apparently, don't get the awesomeness—is this small package of indescribable delight: Tasty pheasants, Christmas presents.

No one in his or her right mind can deny the level(s) of holiday sentiment packed into this exquisite four-word juxtaposition. Table and tree, food and gifts, nature and culture. I triple-dog-dare you to put four words together that capture the season, its activities and sensibilities, like that.

Sinatra had me at pheasants. He continues to have me at pheasants. What else can I say? I'm a family man now, and anyone who can find a word and bust a rhyme for presents deserves to be at least somewhere on a list with Kenny and Dolly and Ms. Carey.