I had a stunning realization today, while eating a crasin salad and cup of chicken noodle soup at a local eatery in my small Wyoming town.
I learned the lyrics to the Christmas song “Up On the Housetop,” like many children, at around age 5 or 6.
Because I was barely literate at that age, along with many of my peers, we didn’t learn songs for grade school choir by being handed sheet music and reading lyrics.
As a matter of fact, to this day, after 12 years of choir and several more participating in musical theater, I still can’t read a lick of musical notation. I was gaining ground, then my voice changed and I moved down to a bass clef as opposed to a treble clef and it was all down hill from there.
We didn’t learn by reading back then. We learned phonetically. The music teacher would sing a few bars, the class would, somewhat atonally, sing it back.
Which is what leads to this error that is, quite literally, nearly several decades in the making.
I’m sitting in the eatery, munching on my salad and the Gene Autry version of “Up On The Housetop” begins to play. In my mind I begin singing along, remembering the ridiculous hand motions we used to have in 1st grade to go along with the lyrics, then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
For years I’d been singing “Up On the Housetop Reindeer Paws. Out Jumps Good Ol’ Santa Claus…”
Which is why I’ve never liked the song. Reindeer paws? Don’t be daft. Reindeer don’t have paws. They have hooves. That’s lazy writing.
I don’t know what was different about this time hearing the song that opened my eyes to the truth. Maybe it was Autry’s inflection, maybe it was years of working to have an open mind finally paying off, but hovering over my bowl of salad it slapped me like a 2-bit pimp.
It’s not “reindeer paws.”
It’s “reindeer pause.”
The rest of the song deals heavily in the onomatopoeia of clicking reindeer hooves on the roof, so my childhood brain never made the jump to think that perhaps the opening line wasn’t referring to their feet, also.
Plus, it was about that time we got our first VCR, and I was still very ignorant of the “pause” button and its function. Still, to this day, I think that’s where I’d eventually learn the word “pause” and its meaning.
Feeling like an idiot, I decided to Facebook my shame. Let everyone know that I had been ignorant for an estimated 27 years.
Much to my surprise, I wasn’t alone in thinking it was “paws.” Many of my Facebook friends, surprised, said they had thought the same thing.
What’s more, after hefty research (read: 30 seconds on Google) I found that several lyrics-listing websites have made the same error.
Which begs the question… is it an error? Have I been correct this whole time? Is it just a hastily written rhyme to go with “Santa Claus?”
Or is it, as I now believe, that the lyric is about reindeer pausing for a moment to allow Santa to get out of his sleigh and stuff little Nell’s stocking with a doll that opens and shuts her eyes?
Sub question: How willing am I to use fuzzy logic to hide the fact that I’ve been a dolt about this particular song for 27 years?
Some day I’ll regale you all with the tale of how I thought Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” was just repeating the words “hot potatoes” over and over again.