- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas will be here in a matter of hours, bringing an end to yet another edition of the anti-Christmas season and its attendant hysteria over public creches and generic holiday greetings.

Yeah, well, enough already. “Merry Anti-Christmas.” So there. Go have some eggnog and give it a rest until next year. All is calm, all is bright, starting now.

In the meantime, Christmas — which arrives no matter what assorted earthlings have to say about it — is here to take up where Hanukkah left off. Huzzah. Generous spirits, high energy and good cheer are still intact, along with a kind of national giddiness over yule tidings in all their splendid, innovative detail.

We find, for example, that “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” recorded by one Gayle Peevey in 1953, ranks No. 21 on the Top-40 list of “holiday ditties,” at least according to Yahoo, which gauges America’s tastes for better or worse based on the size and scope of our online searches.

“Mom says the hippo would eat me up, but then teacher says a hippo is a vegetarian,” Miss Peevey’s lyrics intones.

Astonishingly enough, her plea for the aforementioned noncarnivorous beast — which might make a snappy emblem for the anti-Christmas crowd (“Oh look, children, it’s the holiday hippo.”) — beat out “Little Drummer Boy,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Blue Christmas” on the popularity parade. The contest was won, incidentally, by Gene Autry’s 1949 version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Speaking of Rudolph, he has accrued considerable academic class in his travels around the cultural landscape since his initial debut as a publicity stunt by a Montgomery Ward employee in 1939, to be augmented by Mr. Autry’s recording of the tune a decade later.

New York City’s celebrated St. Bartholomew’s Church recently saw fit to translate the Rudolph lyrics into Latin, with an arrangement for full choir and accompaniment by the city’s largest pipe organ. It’s hoity-toity stuff.

“Rudolphus rubrinasus” has not a shiny nose but a “fulgentissimo naso.” But look out, the red naso-ed reindeer ultimately “descendes historia,” according to the St. Bart’s version, which brought down the house during a Christmas concert several days ago. A free, cheerful version can be heard online (https:// stbarts.whisperaudio.com).

Meanwhile, some are obsessed with other Christmas details.

Brian Jones shelled out $150,000 to buy, sight unseen, the original Victorian house used in “The Christmas Story,” the 1983 film that showcased the holiday foibles of childhood. Mr. Jones, a former Navy intelligence officer, spent another $240,000 renovating the Cleveland home to its silver-screen prime, using money he had earned selling “leg lamps” on the side.

Film lovers recall that a fringed, chubby, naughty lamp shaped like a feminine leg was a prime icon in the tale. The canny Mr. Jones, 30, peddles three versions, priced from $60 to $175, not to mention miniature leg-lamp night lights, Christmas lights and ornaments, plus Ovaltine and Lifebuoy soap, just for the heck of it.

He opened the spruced-up home to the public a few weeks ago as A Christmas Story House, a year-round museum, complete with $5 admission fee, an official curator and a strategic alliance with a local Chinese restaurant, which has agreed to offer a 20-percent discount to museum visitors.

“Yes, they do serve Peking Duck, aka Chinese turkey,” the new curator advises.

For the 22nd year in a row, economists at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh have offered their annual cost index for the 12 days of Christmas — which technically begins tomorrow and ends Jan. 6. They found that the partridge, turtle doves, milkmaids and all 364 motley participants in the song would run about $18,920 to buy or at least hire — up 3 percent in a year.

“The index reflects a broader economy,” notes finance strategist Jeff Kleintop.

What with all this kitschy hubbub, here at the altar guild desk we will quickly inject some sensibilities before we all race home to seek things that are calm, bright and maybe fattening. Don’t forget to pay homage to old ornaments, old recipes and mother’s best china, delicately maneuvered onto the table for the big family dinner as if each dish holds nitroglycerine. Or kryptonite.

Also keep in mind the results of a new Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 adults that found that 65 percent of Americans say “the holiday season should focus more on the birth of Jesus.” Another 90 percent said they celebrated Christmas, while 80 percent decorated their houses for the season.

Oh, and by the way, while pondering whether they should adopt a holiday hippo, the anti-Christmas crowd also might consider the findings from ace pollster John Zogby. His own online survey of close to 13,000 people found that 95 percent of them were not — the altar guild ladies repeat, were not — offended if they were greeted in stores with “Merry Christmas.”

And so we say: Merry Christmas. Have a grand time.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and hippopotami for the Washington Times national desk. Reach her at [email protected] times.com or 202/636-3085.

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