I know I’ve used this for the Daily Dose before, but…well, this is one of the staples for me. Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” is only tangentially about Christmas, I suppose — just the song’s setting, on Christmas Eve, in the very first verse, and then Christmas isn’t really mentioned at all after that. But still, the song almost perfectly captures something about Christmas that doesn’t tend to be talked about much.
Christmas is such a time of emotion, isn’t it? It’s almost certainly our most emotional holiday. I really think it is. Nearly every emotion the heart produces has a home in Christmas, and that includes the sad ones, too. I’ve not yet met the person who wasn’t at least a little bit reflective at Christmastime, some more than others to be sure, but…in amidst the joys of this season, it seems terribly natural to me to also think of choices not made, roads not taken, lives not lived. It’s not always bad, even, but there are moments of sparkling sadness when I wonder what else I might have done.
This shouldn’t imply dissatisfaction, although for some people, I suppose it does. But I can’t imagine that the happiest person, the person most satisfied with the warp and weft of their time on Earth, doesn’t at least once in a while glance back and wonder:
“Is she happy now?”
“What if he had lived?”
“Why didn’t I accept that offer?”
“Would they be proud of what I’ve done?”
These feelings always bubble up at Christmastime, and I’m not entirely sure why. Lots of reasons, I suppose — the holiday’s sacred undertones, whether you believe or not; the timing, putting this season at the end of the year, so you can’t help feeling the weight of more time behind you. I wonder if Christmas would feel a little less melancholy if it took place in January.
Anyhow, “Same Old Lang Syne” famously recounts the tale of when Dan Fogelberg had a chance encounter in a convenience store with an old girlfriend from years before. They spend the night catching up, talking about where their lives have gone, the good and the less good. There’s no affair here, no one-night stand — they meet by chance, they talk a while, they part — and Fogelberg sings of remembering “that old familiar pain”, which is such a perfect way to put it.
“Same Old Lang Syne” absolutely is a Christmas song, because it expresses something true about Christmas. It’s not all about jolly elves and babes in mangers. It can’t be, because we’re human and we humans bring an awful lot of messy stuff to the table.
Oh, and the song is really best listened to in the car. Even if it’s in a parking lot with the engine off.
And for those wondering, yes, the song was inspired by very real events.