Music is my second favorite thing about Christmas (my first is choosing gifts for friends and family).
While it was considered smart to shop ahead for Christmas gifts when I was a child, singing or listening to music and carols at home before Dec. 1 was considered rushing the season. After all, Thanksgiving leftovers really need about a week to settle. Also, the musicians at the Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa, where my mom was the hostess and I used to hang out, refused requests to play carols until then.
With this small restriction, I grew up singing and listening to Christmas carols like a majority of American children. I learned "Silent Night" in Spanish in second grade and I can still sing it. At least I could last year. The harmonies of the Beach Boys on their Christmas album make it my favorite holiday CD.
The image of Good King Wenceslas before he was king, laughing and playing in the snow, inevitably comes to mind when Mannheim Steamroller's version wanders from the traditional carol.
On the rare occasion I hear Jesus' mother sing of her son as a simple child and not a holy figure in "Mary's Lullaby" I break into chills:
"O let me enfold thee, my baby tonight,
While legions are singing in joyous delight.
A new star has risen to hail thee divine,
For you are a king, but tonight you are mine."
Caroling with friends around someone's piano is an activity I happen into every few years. It makes me think of my friend Melody telling me about the time she and a youth group put a piano on the back of a flat bed truck and caroled all through her Azusa, Calif. neighborhood -- not healthy for the piano, but it is still on my list of things to do one day.
My desire for live Christmas music has been met the last several years by The Payson Chorale Society concert. This year it is on Dec. 17.
My impulsive holiday purchase of canned music for 2005 was Elton John's Christmas Party -- his favorites by other artists. The day after I purchased it I took off the @#*&)%! plastic wrapper so I could read the liner notes. The Queen Mum of Rock claimed that Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" is the best version.
The best? I couldn't stand it so I broke tradition and played the whole CD a full 14 days before Dec. 1.
Okay, I agree with Elton, the CD was enjoyable.
You say, ‘Not for me.'?
Well, there are a b'zillion CDs of holiday music available to satisfy any taste and more come out each year.
The other night, since I had broke with tradition already, my boyfriend played me the most unusual CD I never knew existed: "The Bummed Out Christmas" by various artists. "Somebody Stole My Santa Claus Suit" by the Christmas Jug Band, "Santa Got a DWI" by Sherwin Linton and "Christmas in Jail" by the Youngsters were three of the songs on this perhaps-happily-hard-to-find CD.
Yes, there are Christmas songs aplenty.
There are CDs of carols played only on a xylophone, CDs of children singing adamantly about the gifts they want (a hippopotamus, two front teeth or a dolly). Crooners re-recording the song that tells us what happens when chestnuts are combined with fire.
One can find Elvis lamenting a "Blue Christmas" and Madonna coyly singing "Santa Baby."
"Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" by the Brian Setzer Orchestra is a new CD for 2005, while Patty Loveless' "Bluegrass and White Snow" has only been around since 2002.
Suddenly I've got lyrics from Tom Lehrer's Christmas carol parody running through my head:
"Hark the Herald Tribune sings, advertising wondrous things..."
Time to shop.