The Twenty-five Days of Christmas Music: Ella and Judy

Merry Christmas! Merry, merry Christmas!

Of course, my favorite Christmas song had to be today. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is such a classic, there’s not much for me to say about it. My two favorite versions (of the twenty or so that are on my computer) are Judy’s, for being the ultimate emotional version, and Ella’s for being swingy, upbeat, and fun.

Hope you are having a lovely Christmas day!

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The Twenty-fourth day of Christmas: One More Sleep Til Christmas

Happy Christmas Eve! There’s something deliciously nostalgic about Kermit to me. Although I didn’t grow up with the Muppet Christmas Carol, Kermit and I have been old friends, since Sesame Street. The Great Muppet Caper was the movie I usually put in when I was sick on the couch. And my parents have three seasons of the Muppet Show on DVD, which they used to watch when they were newlyweds in grad school. Muppet Christmas Carol is one of those movies that I try to make a point of watching with friends every Christmas (I watched it two days ago, in fact, with my urban tribe). It hits all the right notes – it is funny, sweet, nostalgic, and well-known enough that we all anticipate the best bits (Mine is Rizzo’s “thank you for making me a part of this”).

Here’s wishing that you are having a lovely Christmas Eve!

The Twenty-third Day of Christmas Music: Sleigh Ride

I spend a lot of time in my car during the holidays. Trips to parties, out shopping, up to NH to visit family and friends. And of course, my normal commute to and from work every day, mostly in traffic. Mostly, it’s the usual: humming, paying attention to the road, glowering blackly when drivers are a little too aggressive or all up in my back bumper for my tastes, singing along with whatever is on the radio. You know.

But when one song comes on this time of year, I perk up. The bells! The woodblock! The trumpet that whinnies like a horse! The snap of an imaginary whip! Confession: I have a little bop I do whenever I hear Sleigh Ride, because I truly imagine myself not locked in 5-mile-an-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic on 95 north but wrapped in blankets and wearing smart gloves driving a sleigh pulled by a pair of prancing brown Morgans through some winter wonderland. Because evidently in my fantasy, I am Laura Ingalls Wilder during These Happy Golden Years.

Anyway, Sleigh Ride as performed by the Boston Pops is a classic; I hope you too will bop along whenever you hear it.

The Twenty-first Day of Christmas: In the Bleak Midwinter

Today is midwinter, the winter solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere). Midwinter is the day that the pendulum swings back from “getting darker and darker” to “slowly getting lighter and lighter.” And although the figuratively darkest days for me usually come in February, Midwinter is the day that promises that light will, in fact, return.

In middle school, our school choir director chose In the Bleak Midwinter as one of the songs we’d sing. Most people didn’t like it: it was unfamiliar and down-tempo, and quite frankly had the word bleak in the title. Not really a happy song, but rather well-suited to be sung by a group of angsty, awkward middle schoolers.

But because I am and always have been an ornery thing, I liked it. Mostly because the evocative language:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.
In the bleak midwinter, long time ago

I could identify with hard, cold earth, ice, snow, and the house where I grew up even moaned if the wind blew hard enough from a certain direction.

Here’s Ed Harcourt’s version of In the Bleak Midwinter. Enjoy!

The Twentieth Day of Christmas Music: Feist

Here’s a mellow Christmas song to ease you through Thursday. I tend to gravitate towards Feist’s more upbeat stuff (Mushaboom, 1 2 3 4) but her version of Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming is so cool and chill.

The Nineteenth Day of Christmas Music: Sufjan Stevens

My senior year of college, I took a class called Sustainable Tropical Agriculture. It was a seminar class, taught over a couple of long-haul weekends during the normal semester and then in Florida at ECHO and in Honduras over the winter break. We learned a lot about subsistence-level farming during the semester and at ECHO and then looked at various levels of farming in a rural, mountain community in Honduras. The people on the trip were all amazing people who were passionate about social justice and development issues.

In the evenings, we would eat a meal family-style and then we’d all help clean up. Somebody had brought Sufjan Stevens’ Songs for Christmas, which had just been released. Even though it was January, we all felt festive and the CDs had heavy rotation in the kitchen boombox. Sufjan’s version of Once in Royal David’s City is one of my favorites from the collection – it sounds homey and warm and charmingly low-key, what with the ukulele and Sufjan’s warbley voice. Hearing it always reminds me of washing dishes in the kitchen in Honduras, overlooking green mountains.

The Eighteenth Day of Christmas Music: All That I Want

For a couple years after college, one of my best friends was an RD at the college from which we graduated, in the building I lived in as a freshman. She had a little basement apartment, and I’d come visit for weekends and we’d talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. And talk. One Saturday, I drove down to visit on the heels of a New England snowstorm. It must have been sometime during winter break because the campus was deserted; her car and my car were the only ones in the lot. In the night, over two feet of snow fell, and because it was break, most of the roads and lots on campus weren’t plowed. We had planned to have breakfast with another college friend, and because we were hardy New England folks, we didn’t want to let snow deeper than the tires on my car hinder us.

So we put on boots and warm jackets and leaped our way out to my little car. Getting out of the lot was a challenge – we got stuck a few times but managed to plow our way out somehow, mostly in reverse if memory serves. Roads were barely plowed; in fact we even saw a giant sanding plow fishtail on a turn. But we made it safely and had a long chat and gab over coffee and eggs.

The Weepies always reminds me of those first few years after college, usually as they were often playing at soft volume in the background of whatever festive gathering I was at. All That I Want is one of my favorites.

The Seventeenth Day of Christmas: All Star United

Here’s another aggressively upbeat track from the Happy Christmas albums. All Star United’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day! So festive and happy!

The Sixteenth Day of Christmas Music: The Wexford Carol

One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is the waiting and anticipation part of Advent. Every year when I was little, we would get a new advent calendar and set up calendars from years past around the house. Every morning, I would wake up and open all the windows and look forward to being able to open the last, biggest window.

To me, the Wexford Carol sounds like hope and anticipation. There’s a yearning quality about it, although the song is about the angels’ appearing to the shepherds at night. I love the first verse, below.

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His beloved Son.

The Fifteenth Day of Christmas: Frightened Rabbit

While I think I discovered Frightened Rabbit sometime in grad school, it wasn’t until last winter that I started listening to them all the time. At the time, The Midnight Organ Fight was on fairly constant rotation at work. Something about lead singer Scott Hutchison’s voice resonated with me. He sounds raw and exposed. The music is driving and has a melancholy edge to it. And that suited me just fine. I was going through a low patch and Midnight Organ Fight sounded like the music I wanted to hear.

There’s nothing sweet or sparkly or really festive about It’s Christmas So We’ll Stop, but the Christmas season sometimes contains difficulty, pain, old and new hurt. For me, this serves to reinforce the idea of Emmanuel, God With Us. Not Jesus the tiny baby in the manger, but Jesus the Man of Constant Sorrow, who knows pain and loneliness, who was forgotten and betrayed, but who extends hope and the promise that all will be well.