New Christmas music continues a strange tradition

Published: Monday, December 03, 2012 @ 1:00 AM
Updated: Monday, December 03, 2012 @ 1:00 AM

“What’s up guys? How you doin’?” says the eccentric singer/reality show host.

His companion, a frog puppet, answers with a question: “What do you want for Christmas, Cee Lo?”

“For Christmas?”

And so goes the traditionally weird holiday music season, with a frog, a pig, a bear, a rapping shrimp and Cee Lo Green.

While Christmas music might go unnoticed as background sound during a stressful rush for gifts at a department store or coffee shop, this year’s crop of mistletoe-inspired albums adds another layer to what might be the strangest corner of the music world, one with its own set of rules that annually transcends boundaries of genre and audience.

If you’re looking to add to your annual holiday playlist this year, there is plenty of new music from which to choose: Rod Stewart, Colbie Caillat, Lady Antebellum, Blake Shelton, Kem, and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John all released new albums, as did Sufjan Stevens, who released a five-disc set consisting of originals and classics.

In the holiday music business, it’s perfectly OK for five or 10 or whatever number of artists to release recordings of the same song at the same time. Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” in 1940; the song was first made famous by Bing Crosby, and his version remains among the most popular. This year, Blake Shelton, Rod Stewart, Cee Lo and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John all include the song on their Christmas albums. See also “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Silent Night,” which you’ll hear at least three times, probably more, if you start digging through the new pile.

Shelton and Green maintain high profiles as hosts of NBC’s “The Voice”; it’s fitting then that they both put out Christmas records — holiday music is like one giant version of a reality television singing contest, where rock stars, crooners, country singers, actors, opera singers and just about anyone else who wants to pulls from the same pool of material, putting their stamps on songs we’ve heard thousands of times.

Sometimes, artists attempt to break out of that pool with their own material. Not that many make it into the yearly radio/retail playlist. Mariah Carey created an undeniable Christmas hit with her 1994 song “All I Want For Christmas is You.” Though she broke records and became one of the best-selling artists of all time with gold- and platinum-selling albums of non-holiday material, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” one of the highest-selling Christmas songs ever, is guaranteed to be heard, frequently and widely, for one month (or now maybe from Oct. 31 to Jan. 1) of every year. The same can’t be said of her other hits.

That song, which begins with epic bells and strings before launching into a full-on R&B Christmas party, with big-voiced backup singers and quick-fire piano, is a close cousin to Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which appears on the 1963 Phil Spector compilation “A Christmas Gift For You from Philles Records” (it would later be re-released under different names). That album represented a big offshoot from the Irving Berlin/Bing Crosby family tree, producing a new style of Christmas songs that remain in heavy rotation in stores, films and commercials. Many were sung by Love (“Marshmallow World,” “White Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland”) and the Ronettes (“Frosty the Snowman,” “Sleigh Ride,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”) and influenced later versions by Bruce Springsteen and U2, among others.

This year, Green includes a version of “White Christmas” on his album, “Cee Lo’s Magic Moment,” that nods to Spector with a big bass note intro and a hefty chorus of ooh-ooh-ooh-oohs (the record was co-produced by Bruno Mars team the Smeezingtons, who also handled Cee Lo’s hit “Forget You”). Country act Lady Antebellum make a similar move with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” with Spector-y strings and horns dancing with a honky-tonk swing. Not so much, however, on “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which gets ballad treatment.

Guests — the more unexpected the better — represent another of holiday music’s unruly attitude. One of the better-known examples of just how weird (and wonderful) this practice can get is Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s 1977 duet “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” which was recorded shortly before Crosby died and includes an awkward script where the 30-year-old Bowie asks Crosby, “you’re the one that sings, right?”

Rod Stewart, who sticks mostly to a non-rock, standards style on his album “Merry Christmas, Baby,” makes a strong case for having the most over-the-top roster of guests this year. This includes a “virtual” (and kind of eerie) duet with Ella Fitzgerald (who died in 1996) on “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” Other, more alive guests appear, including Michael Bublé, who released his own Christmas album last year that sat at the top of the Billboard Top 200 list. Stewart and Cee Lo also band together, along with Trombone Shorty, for “Merry Christmas Baby.” The song appears on both Stewart and Green’s albums.

In addition to Stewart, Cee Lo’s album includes guest spots from a cappella group Straight No Chaser, who lend their voices on a dramatic version of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” And then there’s his Muppet duet, “All I Need Is Love.” Despite some sleigh bells here and there, the song mostly stays away from holiday sounds, opting instead for a mash of the Muppets’ longtime viral hit “Mahna Mahna” and a beat that falls somewhere between Cee Lo’s “Forget You” and Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.”

The Muppets, perhaps the ultimate Christmas collaborators, have been down this road for more than 30 years, including their 1979 John Denver collaboration, “A Christmas Together,” the 1992 film “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” and a few different television specials. For Cee Lo, working with the Muppets could make his Christmas wish come true, introducing his music to an even broader group of children and adults who loved and still love Kermit and the gang.

5 things you should know about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting

Published: Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 8:00 AM

Muslims around the globe are gearing up for the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.

Throughout the holiday, observers fast from sunrise to sunset and partake in nightly feasts.

» RELATED: Muslims in America, by the numbers

Here are five things to know about Islam’s sacred month:

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holy month of fasting, spiritual reflection and prayer for Muslims.

It is believed to be the month in which the Prophet Muhammad revealed the holy book — Quran — to Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” itself is taken from the Arabic word, “ramad,” an adjective describing something scorchingly dry or intensely heated by the sun.

» RELATED: Mahershala Ali makes history as first Muslim to win an Academy Award 

When is Ramadan?

The Islamic calendar is based on the moon’s cycle and not the sun’s (what the Western world uses), so the dates vary year to year.

By the Gregorian solar calendar, Ramadan is 10 to 12 days earlier every year.

In 2017, Ramadan is expected to start on May 27 and last through June 24.

Last year, the first day of Ramadan was June 6, 2016.

To determine when exactly the holy month will begin, Muslim-majority countries look to local moon sighters, according to Al Jazeera.

The lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, depending on the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible, the month will last 30 days.

» RELATED: 5 inspiring quotes from iconic Muslim women to celebrate #MuslimWomensDay 

What do Muslims do during Ramadan and why?

Ramadan is known as the holy month of fasting, with Muslims abstaining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Fasting during the holiday is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with the daily prayer, declaration of faith, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Last year, according to Al Jazeera, fasting hours around the globe ranged between 11 and 22 hours and in the US, 16 to 18 hours.

The fast is intended to remind Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate and bring believers closer to God (Allah, in Arabic). 

During the month, Muslims also abstain from habits such as smoking, caffeine, sex, and gossip; this is seen as a way to both physically and spiritually purify oneself while practicing self-restraint.

Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:

  • Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
  • Then, they fast all day until sunset.
  • At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
  • After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar."

» RELATED: Photos of famous Muslim Americans

How is the end of Ramadan celebrated?

Toward the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Laylat al-Qadr or “the Night of Power/Destiny” — a day observers believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad to reveal the Quran’s first verses.

On this night, which falls on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims practice intense worship as they pray for answers and seek forgiveness for any sins.

To mark the end of Ramadan, determined by the sighting of the moon on the 29th, a 3-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr brings families and friends together in early morning prayers followed by picnics, feasts and fun.

Does every Muslim fast during Ramadan?

According to most interpreters of the Quran, children, the elderly, the ill, pregnant women, women who are nursing or menstruating, and travelers are exempt from fasting.

Some interpreters also consider intense hunger and thirst as well as compulsion (someone threatening another to do something) exceptions.

But as an entirety, whether Muslims fast or not often depends on their ethnicity and country.

Many Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, for example, observe the monthlong fast during Ramadan, according to 2012 data from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, in Saudi Arabia, Muslims and non-Muslims can be fined or jailed for eating in public during the day, according to the Associated Press.

But in the United States and in Europe, many Muslims are accepting of non-observers.


How not to celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Published: Tuesday, May 02, 2017 @ 11:28 AM

Cinco de Mayo is Friday, and before everyone gets ready for happy hours and parties, it helps to go in with a plan.

>> Read more trending stories

There are plenty of ways to celebrate the day, which commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5 1862, during the French-Mexican war.

Make sure you do not do any of the following:

Dress up in sombreros and fake mustaches

There is no need to "dress up" for this day, but if you do, do not wear a sombrero, mariachi suit, serape, fake mustache or anything of the sort if you are not a member of that culture. Those things have historical and cultural significance, and donning them just for a day caricatures and stereotypes people. That's not fun.

Go out and get drunk

There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation and doing it socially, but responsibility is key. What is the use in celebrating a day if you get sick or can't remember it?

Make English words Spanish by adding an "o" on the end

Not only does it not make any sense, but by doing this, it makes fun of another language and turns it into a joke. The same goes for plays on the holiday name, so no parties or themes like "Cinco de Drinko."

You can make a margarita cupcake or a fun cocktail, or have dinner at a family-owned Mexican restaurant. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo without doing any of the three above.

Woman turns son's hospital bed into giant Easter basket

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 5:14 PM

Marine2844/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A woman turned her son’s hospital bed at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, into a giant Easter basket, and social media loved it.

>> Read more trending news

The hospital posted the image on its Facebook page on Monday. Within 24 hours, the post has nearly 2,000 likes and nearly 400 shares.
“The lengths great parents will go to for their precious children,” one commenter wrote. 

The family is showing support for the post and have commented that they hope this becomes a trend for patients at the hospital every Easter.

Why is it called Good Friday and what’s so good about it?

Published: Friday, April 14, 2017 @ 12:14 PM

Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.
Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images

Christians believe Jesus was mocked publicly and crucified on a solemn Friday two thousand years ago. Today, the calamitous day is celebrated as Good Friday.

But what’s so good about that?

>> Read more trending news

One answer is that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, “good” may have referred to “holy” in Old English, a linguistic theory supported by many language experts.

According to Slate, the Oxford English Dictionary notes the Wednesday before Easter was once called “Good Wednesday.” Today, it’s more commonly known as Holy Wednesday.

And Anatoly Liberman, a University of Minnesota professor who studies the origins of English words, told Slate if we consider the alternative names for Good Friday, such as “Sacred Friday” (romance languages) or “Passion Friday” (Russian), this theory makes a lot of sense.

Another possible reason for its moniker — a theory supported by both linguists and historical evidence — refers to the holiday’s ties to Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ.

Because Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected without dying, the day of his death is, in a sense, “good.”

“That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” the Huffington Post reported.

A third answer, some believe, is that the “good” in Good Friday was derived from "God” or “God’s Friday” — the way the term “goodbye” comes from a contraction of the phrase “God Be With You.”

Still, not everyone refers to this day as Good Friday. For example, 

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that, in the Greek Church, the holiday is known as "the Holy and Great Friday." In German, it's referred to as "Sorrowful Friday."

And as aforementioned, “Sacred Friday” and “Passion Friday” are also used.

In addition, because the holiday is also commemorated with a long fast, Good Friday was also referred to as “Long Friday” by the Anglo-Saxons.