Of all the joys of the Christmas season, I like the music best.
The traditional Protestant songs of my childhood fill me with nostalgia.
The jazzy piano of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” makes me grin and want to dance.
The Nutcracker makes me want to whistle along, if only I knew how to whistle. Still, I try.
Sure, there are lots of annoying holiday songs. One only need turn on the car radio or go to a shopping center to be annoyed by the standard set list of songs that cycle through—Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Let It Snow. Over and over again.
At home, though, we control what we listen to. Our big box of Christmas CDs has been retrieved from storage and the favorites are queued up in the player.
We have the soft and classic, with a heavy focus on Celtic music.
We have the quirky and unusual, the other side of Christmas. If you want bawdy and blue, to recognize that Christmas means different things to different people, try “Blue Yule”! The Cajun and Creole music will give you the energy to bake 100 dozen cookies!
I love this Christmas album in particular—American Folk Songs for Christmas–unusual songs in the American folk tradition and put out by Smithsonian Folkways.
As they describe the album on their website : “This compilation of less-commonly known Christmas songs represents a variety of Folksongs that find their origin in European and British Isles Ballads, as well as several African-American spirituals, hollers and chants from the slave era that express a deeply spiritual celebration of Christmas.” Lovely, all of it.
And, if I had to pick one Christmas album, to the exclusion of all others, it would be this one, “The Bells of Dublin,” by the Chieftains.
This album includes some old-standby songs, like “O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and it is heavy on rollicking Celtic tunes. It brings diversity in sound—we have a French carol, lots of Irish and British tunes, a song from a self-described “heathen and pagan,” Jackson Browne.
The unparalleled instrumental sounds of the Chieftains—uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bodhran, fiddle—are augmented in spots by the organ of St. Anne’s Cathedral of Belfast and the bell-ringers of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
And the voices, so many and so different! Marianne Faithfull, Jackson Browne, Nanci Griffith, Ricki Lee Jones, Kate and Anna McGarrigle.
And Elvis Costello, doing one of the most bizarre and refreshing Christmas songs you’ll ever hear, “St. Stephen’s Day Murders,“ just for those whose families have finally worn them down . . .
These albums are all antidotes to the ubiquitous songs one hears in the shopping malls and on the radio in this season. With a few well-chosen Christmas albums at home, one need never hear “Oh, the weather outside is frightful . . . ” or “Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock” again!
We always have room for new music so tell me, what is your favorite Christmas or holiday music? Do you have one favorite song or album? Share!