So What Constitutes a “Christmas” Song?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDudeP

This time of year — well, actually starting sometime around Thanksgiving — much of the world begins the ritual of enjoying, presenting, performing, producing, distributing and airing musical compositions that honor, celebrate or promote the day we celebrate today.

Google “Christmas Songs,” and the algorithms that drive the search engine reveal 1,520,000,000 options. That’s a lot or results, for any search.

Of course, you’ll find “best” and “greatest” lists, which I’ll let you scan for commentary. But I would gather that a sizeable majority of those included have “Christmas,” “Santa,” “snow” or another word characteristic of the holiday in the title or within the lyrics.

Which brings me to this multiple-part question: What is a “Christmas song?” How is it defined? What characteristics are required for the song to be added to the Christmas song canon?

I’ll let you provide answers or commentary. But I want to share a song written by one of my musical heroes (and I don’t have too many) that is all about the essence of what the Christmas holiday should represent — but doesn’t reference the Christ child by name, much less that jolly fellow, reindeer, presents, trees, tinsel, Black Friday or even snow.

The song is “Nothing But a Child,” and the author is Steve Earle.

This almost lullaby, which appeared on the Copperhead Road album of 1989, is ethereal, melodic and passionate; its blend of timeless, hopeful lyrics, straightforward vocal delivery and soothing pedal steel guitar interludes results in a compelling musical accomplishment.

There is a “Christmas” aspect to the song, yet, I’ve never heard it performed during the holiday. Hopefully, Earle’s peaceful song will someday be better recognized and interpreted by those of us who appreciate the power of music.

Here’s a Merry Christmas to all who read this entry into The PRDude and the 440 others I’ve posted over the past decade.  As I prepare to file this post, there’s six hours of Christmas Day left in 2019 to appreciate “Nothing But a Child.”



So This Is How We Celebrate Christmas Today: Pop Up Bars?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Let me guess: The folks in this image from a place called Elf’d Up were sort of formally coached (and professionally dressed up and made up) to demonstrate the holiday spirit.

Let it not be said that The PRDude is a curmudgeonly Grinch when it comes to sharing thoughts and memories related to the Christmas holiday.

After all, this space has published a plethora of sorts of Christmas-focused posts over the years. Here are six:

  • A 2016 perspective based on the long-running Christmas Extravaganza gig put on by me and my mates from Chicago cover band Love House. (Free December 22? We’re playing Fitzgerald’s Side Bar.)
  • A video featuring an original Christmas song performed by — me on Christmas Eve 2014 — was my gift to you four years ago.  (Please excuse the questionable audio/visual quality; hope to re-record some day.)
  • In 2012, I grappled with the question: “What’s new this Christmas? Learn what I found in this post. (And, yes, I’m still looking for more answers.)
  • Once upon a time, there were no blogs and no one had personal computers; but we found reason for joy at Christmas.  I recall a favorite memory in a 2011 retrospective. (The story presented — very much true — still resonates.)
  • During my search for “that next great job in public relations,” I wrote what I hope was an inspirational commentary in 2010. (Sometimes we should be thankful for more than physical stuff.)
  • And, in this 2009 post, I injected some humor (it’s there, trust me) in an argument that Santa Claus is supported by sound public relations counsel.  (Okay, maybe I had a holiday glass of wine or two while writing this one.)

Each of these six posts — some corny, some serious, all heartfelt — have kind of a traditional scope (friendship, memories, thankfulness), and hopefully will resonate over the years.

That’s why I was somewhat taken aback by an online article I read this week on Block Club Chicago, an excellent locally-focused digital news source. The subject of the piece published December 5: Pop up holiday bars.

Yes, pop up — meaning not designed for permanence — establishments where you can ring in the Christmas holidays in a “fully curated” (my interpretation) environment, but one that will vanish and be recreated to celebrate the next holiday, possibly featuring all things Super Bowl Sunday or Groundhog Day.

Hey, I enjoy bars, restaurants or any business establishment that makes a concerted effort to decorate for the holidays and provide a festive environment.  But, I find it somewhat disconcerting that a business would market itself as a “holiday destination” — then get discarded like spent wrapping paper.  Where’s the permanence? How could these places build tradition, inspire memories, knowing they’ll be gone in January?

Wishing the pop up businesses success this season; they are businesses, and businesses are designed to make a profit.  Just call me old-fashioned, but please don’t call me the Grinch-that-wants-to pull the plug on-Christmas-pop up-bars.

















The Love House Christmas Extravaganza: A Musical Holiday Tradition

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Holiday traditions, are as old as, well the holidays themselves. And, you guessed it: There’s even a website — World Holiday Traditions — that provides insight into how cultures celebrate at Christmastime.


Which one is me? The good-looking one. A tradition is to enlist an audience member to add the sleight bells to Christmas songs.

Like many around the world, I have fond memories of our family gathered together in our home on Walton Street in Chicago for the Polish Christmas Eve traditional dinner, called wigilia. It’s a meatless meal of Old World foods, all served family style, and includes passing a wafer called oplatek while offering everyone good wishes for the year.

(Full disclosure: My brothers and I complained about the somewhat bland dishes, and I believe we got pizza added to the menu, bringing an Italian-inspired tradition to our wigilia meal.)

For the past 20-plus years or so, I’ve partaken in another holiday tradition of sorts with my other “family” — namely (in alphabetical order) Bill, Doug, Phil and Roy.  Yes, they have last names, but I’ll keep them confidential for now.  These guys are my musical compatriots in a rock and roll cover band called Love House.

What a way to usher in the Christmas holiday! Rocking out with Love House.

What a way to usher in the Christmas holiday! Rocking out with Love House.

Our tradition: Securing a gig at whatever bar will have us, inviting family and friends, and spreading the spirit of the season with Christmas songs new and old, along with other selections you’ve probably heard before. View a video to get an idea of what it was like during the 2016 show December 10 at Chalk in Forest Park, IL.

This tradition — and much of the set list — hasn’t changed much over the years, but we really enjoy making music and people still make the trek out during a cold month and help us spread holiday cheer. And, to make the event more communal, we invite a member of the audience to ring sleigh bells during “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Run, Run Rudolph” and other holiday musical chestnuts, although we have none roasting on an open fire.

Yes, we make a small amount of money; I spent mine buying guests a beer. A small token of thanks for letting Love House play a small role in shaping memories of this time of year for those close to us — and anyone who wandered in.

How long will the Love House Christmas Extravaganza (I made up the name, by the way, to improve SEO; we just call it “the Christmas gig”) last?

Ho, ho, ho, I don’t know. Just keep a date open next December, and plan on taking in the show.








Who Cares About the “Best” When “Just Okay” is Good Enough

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)


Please! I’m not trying to be this guy.

Yes, it’s the holiday season and everything is supposed to be sweetness and light, unless of course you’re trying to find parking at a busy shopping mall.  So, I’ll be brief with these thoughts and try not to sound too much like Mr. Scrooge or The Grinch.

The days around Christmas and New Year’s are a truly wonderful time of the year, but they happen at the end of the year.  That means everyone from pundits to critics to reviewers to — yes, some bloggers — are compelled or ordered to draft their “Best of (fill in the blank)” report.  In most cases, it’s the 10 “best” selections.


Mr. Bartok — you’re okay in my book.

Of course, being rated “best” in most of these instances is purely subjective, especially when rating artistic endeavors.  The late European classical composer Bela Bartok offered this often-quoted perspective on judging art and those who make it:

“Competition is for horses, not artists.”

Bravo, Mr. Bartok!  Although I am not familiar with your work, I love your perspective.

That’s why I’m proposing to all pundits, critics, reviewers and bloggers to dispense with future “best” lists.  To paraphrase Mr. Bartok, the “best” horse is the one that wins a race; there’s no other clear cut way to judge that kind of competition.


Stop: Change this to “Just Okay” now.

Rather than offer your “best,” why don’t we start to categorize people, places, art, events and other stuff in a more encompassing, relaxed category, one that’s not so high and mighty: Just Okay.  Furthermore, ignore the nice round number of 10 and use another.  What’s wrong with identifying eight or 12 things that are just okay?  Or four?

I’d list a number of just okay public relations programs or practitioners for 2013, but none come to mind.  Full disclosure:  I don’t even subscribe to any of industry weekly publications anymore, so I’m somewhat removed from the best, I mean, “just okay,” PR programs or people.

And, you know: I’m okay with that.

My Favorite Christmas Memory, Before There Were Computers

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This time of year is a great time for lots of things. Most people relish the holidays for the opportunity to visit with family and friends. Others revel in the pageantry. And, of course, there are those who like to give an receive.

Me, I like the opportunity to reflect on the year that unfolded and what made it memorable, different or poignant.

As a student at Illinois State University, I recall attending a presentation by iconic author Truman Capote. This true man of letters was diminutive, as you may know, but a giant when putting words on paper.  Mr. Capote read a delightful Christmas themed short story, “A Christmas Memory,” then answered questions.  I recall he was very, very engaging.  And, I recall he did not have anything pleasant to say about Gore Vidal.

Here’s one Christmas memory that will resonate with me forever.  It took place way back in 1978.  For those unfamiliar with that time in history, there were no computers.  I worked as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago, a place I’ve blogged about before.

That Christmas I was fortunate enough to have been “promoted” to the day shift after 12 months working overnights, which is not something I would trust on anyone, aside perhaps those celluloid vampires that apparently are well en vogue these days.

Back to the story at hand.  My assignment on Christmas Day 1978 was to visit the Salvation Army facility just west of downtown Chicago to do a feature piece on those who had no place to go for a Christmas meal.  The Salvation Army was their only option.

Here’s what I remember.  The facility, located on Ashland Avenue at Adams Street, was clean, bright and inviting.  I walked into a large room and was greeted by a Salvation Army “officer” type of guy in uniform and a stunning woman who was volunteering that day. I told them the purpose of my visit, and they welcomed me to stay for a meal and speak to those unfortunate souls who had no place else to go.

The woman said she was new to Chicago and wanted to do something positive for those in need. As someone who spent every previous Christmas with family, I admired this lady for her generosity.

I spent the next hour speaking with a red-faced man named John and a native American named Fabian Bennet, who later took a turn at a piano in the room and impressed me with his ability to play ragtime music from memory.  And, I stood in line, took a paper plate and plastic utensils and enjoyed turkey, dressing and vegetables.  I recall the food was pretty good.

Normally, I would be having Christmas dinner with my family.  This year, I dined with what used to be called “bums.”  That Christmas Day, in that brightly lit room, everyone had dignity. Everyone was part of an informal family. No one was a bum.

It was a very cold Christmas Day that year, and the desk sent me to cover a fire nearby before I could write the Salvation Army piece. Fortunately, no one was injured in the blaze, and I had the good fortune of spending some time in a mobile unit sent by the Red Cross, a place where firemen — and cold reporters — could get some warmth. I called in details of the fire from a pay phone, giving a rewrite guy the information he needed to file the story before it went over the wire.

Back at the City News office at 188 West Randolph Street, I filed my story.  I recall the lead was something like this: “They filtered into the West Side facility cold, hungry and a bit disillusioned about Christmas. They left warm, well fed and with a gift under their arm.  They were the poor and downtrodden of Chicago who spent Christmas at the Salvation Army.”

My editor applauded my work, and I was pretty proud of it.  I wrote it on a manual typewriter, which is what we used back then before there were computers.  The memories of that Christmas Day in 1979 spent with those who had a lot less than me were conveyed into one of the best stories I ever filed.

If you have a Christmas memory to share, please do so.  If not, have a Merry Christmas from the PRDude.

Yes Friends, There is a Santa Claus & He Has Public Relations Counsel

Before the turn of the century — the 20th century, specifically — the New York Sun printed an iconic editorial (“Yes Virginia, There Really is a Santa Claus”) affirming that Santa Claus, indeed, does exist.  Well, at least in the hearts and minds of those who can muster up the Christmas spirit this time of year.

But I’m here to lay a claim on this day after Christmas that will shock the communications community to its very foundation: Old St. Nick maintains public relations counsel.

It’s true.  In fact, Santa has kept PR professionals busy in some way, shape or form since the dawn of mass communications.   Not sure if pioneers like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays were ever retained by the jolly fellow, but it’s certain that over the decades skilled communicators have crafted effective public relations programs to generate favorable impressions on all things Santa.

What proof do I have for this bold statement? Nothing concrete, yet consider this contention:  Santa comes around once a year and really works only one evening, yet his activities rank quite high in terms of realizing key goals (making people happy, promoting peace and good will) and objectives (delivering gifts, driving commerce, keeping reindeer and elves employed).

Efforts to promote Santa realize classic objectives to create awareness (we all know his busy night), acceptance (everyone — well, almost everyone — believes in Santa), and action (whether you believe in Christmas or not, you’ve probably spent money on something holiday-related, and hopefully you found some reason to spread good cheer.)

As for measuring Santa’s effectiveness on international consciousness, I offer this statistic:  A Google search on “Santa Claus” generated 25 million search results.  This pales to Tiger Woods (56.5 ), million), Barack Obama (76 million) and Taylor Swift (35 million).  Yet, remember, Santa works only on December 24th, and he’s never shot and won in the PAG tour, run for national office and won, or participated in the MTV Video Awards and won.

Note to savvy public relations professionals: Give the old guy a few days to relax, but prepare your RFPs for the 2010 campaign.  Conduct research, brainstorm with your entire team to craft winning strategies and breakthrough tactics. Win the Santa account.  And, if you need a skilled, senior communicator to join your team — to pitch Santa or some other account — I’m listening.