Holiday Music from the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Hi, Kate Flora here. I was just in the kitchen stirring the oatmeal while my unusually energetic toaster tossed bread onto the counter, thinking about holiday music. First, because soon it will be time to start cooking for my annual holiday party, and I love to listen to music while I’m cooking. Second, because I am so grateful to be in my quiet kitchen instead of out at fine stores everywhere, listening to the zillionth version of “Little Drummer Boy.” I imagine those poor, desperate shoppers, thinking to themselves, “And so I knocked him down, a rumpa pum pum. . . .”

There was plenty of traditional Christmas music in my childhood. I sang in the choir at the People’s Methodist Church for about twelve years. Those carols still resonate even though I now sing like a frog with a range of about two notes.

Some years ago, I was in Cambridge, England, on Christmas Eve, and although we didn’t have tickets, we stood outside the King’s College chapel and could hear the carols. That magical experience introduced me to the alternative version of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” to “The Holly and the Ivy,” and that lovely song that Julia used for one of her book titles, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I still like to listen to the King’s College choir on the radio, complete with chairs creaking and throat clearing between songs and that stunning moment when a single young boy’s voice begins, “Once in Royal David’s City.”

Over the years, the stack of holiday albums has grown to include Windham Hill, Maine’s own Paul Sullivan’s album “Christmas in Maine,” Mannheim Steamroller, Shaken not Stirred, Bob Dylan, as well as many compilations. I have Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, doing “Frosty the Snowman,” Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Mario Lanza, the swoon of my youth, singing “The Lords Prayer.”

I have some hauntingly beautiful new age music. If you haven’t heard Enya’s version of “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” you should listen to this. Or try Serah singing the same song. Or Loreena McKennitt’s album A Midwinter Night’s Dream. I had never heard of her until I was writing Finding Amy and learned that McKennitt’s song, “Dante’s Prayer,” was one of Amy’s favorites.

Rush Coil 8-bit Christmas

Of course, there has been plenty of goofy music as well. A few Christmases ago, my younger son, Max, gave us something by Rush Coil called 8-bit Christmas, with holiday tunes using the sound of Super Mario Brothers. Back when I was more of a workout queen, I used to have the world’s single most awful aerobics holiday compilation, Cardio Christmas. It was so bad my family used to beg me to turn it off. I thought those jazzed up versions of holiday tunes were the bee’s knees. Sadly, it is now lost somewhere in the recesses of my house. Unless, of course, my family finally got smart and made it disappear.

For years, my older son, Jake, has made his aged P’s music compilations to bring us up to date on what’s happening in the music world. For Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, and Chrismas my husband and I each get our own mix. Last year, my lovely daughter-in-law Robyn joined in the fun and made a great Christmas mix for oldsters. Soon, as I struggle with phyllo dough, marinate ten pounds of mahogany chicken wings, and create the giant taco and the caviar pie, I will be dancing around the kitchen, listening to Elvis sing “Blue Christmas,” Chuck Berry singing “Run, Rudolf, Run,” the Ronettes and Crystals, Dean Martin and Brenda Lee.

It won’t be like being in Cambridge outside the chapel, listening to a choir. But it will definitely put me in the right mood for the season.

What will you be listening to?

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5 Responses to Holiday Music from the Sublime to the Ridiculous

  1. I have a Christmas album by Bing Crosby that’s still a favorite. We managed to make a CD off the original record (anyone else still have a stack of 33s and nothing to play them on?) and along with “White Christmas” I sing along (out of tune but with enthusiam) to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” and other classic tunes from yesteryear.

  2. Joan Emerson says:

    Christmas carols, most definitely — the season for Christmas music is never long enough for all of the beautiful holiday music it has generated . . . . Jackie Evancho’s “Heavenly Christmas” and “O Holy Night” both get lots of play around here, even if it is not the Christmas season. I have a particular fondness for a little Bobby Troup song, sung by Julie London, called “I’d Like You For Christmas” and, yes, I most definitely have it on vinyl [on a 45] . . . but I also have a turntable since my vinyl collection includes many recordings that do not have a CD counterpart . . . .

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Dating me, totally … I love Joan Baez’ Christmas album … and in college I went through a stage of adoring medieval music, which also left me with some wonderful Christmas music. Plus there’s my Scottish Christmas album. Perry Como was a favorite, along with Bing Crosby, when I was growing up. Isn’t it interesting how some singers are really identified with certain songs? Which is telling me it is time to look through my music. And, yes, Kaitlyn. I also have a lot of 33s. A few years back I even bought s new (yes) record player to play them on. Merry Christmas!

  4. Incredibly, one of our most memorable family record albums was An Arthur Godfrey Christmas (the records were red plastic 45s) with Godfrey himself, who couldn’t sing, singing, and Hale Loke doing Melle Kalikimaka. Much later a young man of my acquaintance turned me on to Handel’s Messiah. I still have that album. But it’s Judy Garland singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas that captures the essential sadness of the holiday for me. (Or Spike Jones’ All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.)

  5. John Clark says:

    I remember listening to “Christmas in Killarney” on that mammoth radio/record player we had when we were kids. I also get in touch with my inner redneck (and sing along if I deem it safe) whenever I Hear “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”

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