Advent, My Way #24

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My favorite Christmas song, from my favorite Christmas album.

In all my ambivalence about the religious aspects of Christmas, I know one thing—I hope you all will find happiness and contentment at this season.

As the song says,

I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer,
From a heathen and a pagan,
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

The Rebel Jesus, by Jackson Browne

The streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for all God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

They call him by the “Prince of Peace”
And they call him by “The Saviour”
And they pray to him upon the sea
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber’s den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure and I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

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Advent, My Way #11

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.

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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!

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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!

Advent, My Way #7

It’s time to decorate for Christmas!

You bring out the ornaments—the ones your kids made when they were little, the ones you were given the year you bought your first house, the ones you made from something you saw on Pinterest.

You find the wreath and tartan ribbons and lights for the tree.

You dig out every candle you own and the candlesticks and that special plate for Santa’s cookies.

Of course, you’d never forget the special Christmas stockings, to be hung by the chimney with care.

But what about books? So many of you love books—do you have special books that come out just for the holiday season? Books to re-read, books that are beautiful, books that, for you, are the essence of what the season means?

In our usual minimalist planning for Christmas, I don’t think about this kind of detail. But there are three books that I will run across occasionally during the year that make me think, “Damn. I should put that out at Christmas—I love that book.”

And this year, I’m remembering!

The book I love the most is this one.

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My sister and I grew up in that era when it seems that every kid took piano lessons.

I didn’t care much for the lessons and never learned to play the piano very well—it seems one was expected to practice between the weekly lessons!

But this little book of Christmas music moves me no end.

It sort of captures what Christmas looked like in the early 1960s. I swear, in that era, Santa and the reindeer were not as plump and cutesy and cartoon-ish as they have become.

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It has my grandmother’s handwriting on the cover. I love seeing the unique handwriting of people I’ve lost from my life.

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It has the songs that I loved best then and the ones that still hit me in the solar plexus now. They’re all here: Silent Night, Away in the Manger, The First Noel, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

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And it has a few that make me smile now, even though I paid no attention to them then.

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It also displays my incredible artistic talent and vision, as I used it as a coloring book. I liked coloring better than playing the piano. (That got me in trouble when I colored the libretto from my mother’s recording of Carmen . . . )

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So, the music book will sit out this year, on a music stand because we don’t have a piano any longer. Seeing it will remind me of a simple time, loving family, the moving melodies of Christmas, and of my sweet, magical childhood.

And, I’ll ask it again. What about books? You love books—do you have special books that come out just for the holiday season? Books to re-read, books that are beautiful, books that, for you, are the essence of what the season means?