So, this is Christmas…. and what have you done? Never was there penned a more loaded line in a Christmas song. John Lennon and Yoko Ono knew the gravity of the line, having written it in 1971, at the height of a dreadful and intractable war in Vietnam, and after years of political activism to encourage peace. That opening line is an interrogation of our personal morals that stands true and straight today, enough to bring stinging tears to my eyes the very second I hear them. As Christmas songs go, Baby It’s Cold Outside, it ain’t.
What have you done? the song asks. It falls just short of an accusation, doesn’t it? Immediately upon hearing it, I’m reminded of not only of what I’ve done during the year, but more importantly of what I have not done. Exactly what John and Yoko were hoping for; personal accountability.
The song segues unapologetically from the idea of ‘a very merry Christmas and a happy new year, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any tears‘, sung in a huge chorus burst of joy and nostalgia, to the haunting phrase ‘war is over, if you want it‘. It barely skips a beat between those two ideas. There is such powerful sentimentality in the first idea you cannot help but sing along, and without a second thought, you also sing loudly and proudly along to the war protest of the second idea. That’s hella clever writing.
John Lennon had had a massive hit earlier that same year with the ballad Imagine. After banging out political protest songs and messages and being generally loud-mouthed and some might say just plain obnoxious about peace, the popularity of Imagine proved something to him as a writer. Lennon concluded,
Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey.
This is almost a “Love First. Then Disaster” moment; reeling the audience in with a jolly sing-a-long (and if you know anything about British culture and the nature of British pub songs, you will certainly know they LOVE a good sing-a-long tune), then hit them with the core truth you were wanting them to hear.
It’s been a terrible year for a lot of people. Personally, I feel battle-weary from what seems like months and months of difficulties, but that’s nothing compared to horrifically besieged Aleppo or war-ravaged Kenya or the high-seas migrant trauma of the Mediterranean or any one of a hundred pots of hatred that currently simmer away on an ever-hotter planet. War and threats of war are everywhere we look, and yet we stand on the brink of the new year with a US president-elect who angers and frightens the be-jezuz out of most people. It’s been a terrible year.
Where is the hope? Even the current first lady of the USA finds it hard to see a glimmer of it in our future. And she and her husband have been so comforting in the area of hope for the last 8 years. To see them cry ‘where is the hope?’ is so devastating.
John Lennon would say —’hang on, hope is not some magical creature to capture— it is made, from within us.’ He would say ‘listen, we have been here before. Many times. Check your history books. Hope prevails. Every time. We will prevail. All it takes is you.”
John would say hope stands right with us. All of us. The war is over. If you want it.