POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica
by David Trumbull
February 9, 2007
No, this column is not two months late. Nor will you find in it a word against the heartily shouted greetings of "Merry Christmas," "Happy Chanukah," or even Saturnalia optima that fill, or ought to fill, the air during the twelfth month of the year. Yes, December may be queen among the months as regards holidays, but February makes up for its lack of days with an abundance of festive occasions.
This year February brings us that most unfestive of seasons, lent. But that comes after rowdy carnival time, culminating in Shrove Tuesday. And mid-month Valentine's Day reminds us, in the words of Irving Berlin, to "Be Careful, It's My Heart." That song is one of the many delightful Berlin confections in the 1942 talking picture, Holiday Inn. The picture plays on television every December showcasing the "mega-hit" White Christmas" as introduced by Bing Crosby. And well it should. But it merits a viewing any season, not the least for three big production numbers set in February.
In addition to the charming Valentine's Day offering previously mentioned, the film gives us Berlin's "Abraham," and heart-felt song-and-dance salute to the Great Emancipator (February 12). "Der Bingle" in blackface rightly offends our politically correct sensibilities today. But at the time the picture was made, when African Americans were, by law, treated as inferior citizens in many of our States and even in our armed services, having major white stars celebrating the end of negro slavery was quite enlightened. It reminds us that the quest for freedom and equality for all Americans has taken many years and continues as we learn to value each person for his unique worth.
As President George W. Bush said in proclaiming February 2007, National African American History Month:
The theme of this year's National African American History Month, "From Slavery to Freedom: Africans in the Americas," recalls African Americans' long journey to justice and commemorates the courage and persistence of the heroes who called on our Nation to live up to its founding promise.
February, and the movie Holiday Inn, have yet another treat for us. The witty, if just a bit precious, Washington's Birthday (February 22) number follows the theme of young George's fabled honesty --as recorded (invented?) by Parson Weems. The Berlin song is: "I Can't Tell a Lie."
Berlin, a Russian Jew who arrived as boy in America practically penniless, went on to be the most successful, and most American, of song-writers. He loved America for the unprecedented freedom she affords to every American, native-born or naturalized. And he understood the power of music both to admonish people to love what is good about our country and to move them to work to improve whatever is lacking in our national character.
This year as you enjoy the long Washington's Birthday (or Presidents' Day) weekend, take time to reflect on our history, on our current greatness, and consider how you will contribute to making our future even better.