The Importance of All of the Christmas Music

I know. We all probably have a love-hate relationship with Christmas music. When played too early, too often, or long after the holiday, it’s THE WORST. But there’s a sweet spot – I’m gonna say Black Friday through New Year’s Eve, and even that may be too much for some.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the radio stations that convert to Christmas seemingly play the same dozen songs over and over and over and over. Then, just as you leave the car, you head into the mall, where the SAME SONGS are playing.

The majority of Christmas songs are standards and have been around for decades. It’s very rare for a “new” Christmas song performed by a trendy music artist will actually become apart of the pantheon of usuals.

So of course, there are tons of lists out there of Bests and Worsts. Maybe I’ll get into that someday. But I have my own list of songs – Christmas songs that are important to me, whether they’re new, old, well-known or obscure, terribly or awesomely over-played. Because, in that sweet spot, I can’t get enough of these songs.

#1. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town – Bruce Springsteen

For me and my mom, this is our JAM. We rock this song like no one else. Mom loves Bruce’s half-singing, half-growling. I love the super deep “Better be good for goodness sake,” and the “ho ho ho” in the background. Let’s just say, no matter what’s going on in the house, if that song comes on, we drop what we’re doing and belt it. When I go home for Christmas, I just might try to get Mom to do a Dubsmash with me… Stay tuned.

#2. Christmas Eve Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This song is at least 20 years old now, but every time it plays, I feel the same as I did when I first heard it on the middle school bus. Cory and I have seen TSO several times, and let’s just say if you love rock and pyrotechnics, this is the greatest Christmas concert ever. Cory’s favorite part? When they light the *fire* on fire.

#3. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Frank Sinatra

The Sinatra version is one of the saddest, making it closest to the original and devastating version Judy Garland sang in Meet Me in St. Louis. Why do I love a sad Christmas song? I can’t say, really. Maybe because the pressure to be chipper during the holidays can be too much. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean life stops. It’s nice to be reminded that in spite of everything, you can still have a Merry Christmas, even on a small scale.

#4. Deck the Halls – Sesame Street

This is a VERY SPECIFIC version, from A Muppet Family Christmas, only the greatest Christmas TV special of all time. While it’s an hour full of music, including a religion-free, gift-giving celebration courtesy of the Fraggles (Pass it On!), and a brilliant transition of a humble Jingle Bells (Kermit and Robin) into Jingle Bell Rock (Dr. Teeth & the band), it was tough to pick just one. But the part of the special that fills me with absolute glee is when the Sesame Street gang shows up to Mother Bear’s house, singing their hearts out. They enter singing “Here We Come a-Caroling,” but when they break into “Deck the Halls,” each of the Street stars – Bert, Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover (THE BEST, btw) – they each have their moment. I just love it.

#5. A Christmas Carol from Scrooge

This may not be my favorite song from the 1979 film (more on that at a later time), but wow does it hold some impact. For example, when searching for the above video, I burst into tears as soon as it began to play. Okay, I might be a little holiday homesick….  Anyway, it’s not a show stopper like Thank You Very Much. In fact, it’s barely featured. It’s played over the opening credits, then sung essentially in the background by school children celebrating Christmas, dressed in costumes (the carrot kid is my favorite) during Scrooge’s venture into his past. The other reason is that in high school, while organizing the chorus instructor’s cabinets full of music, I stumbled upon an arrangement of this song. After my constant insisting, he added it to the line-up for the Christmas concert. What’s more, he asked if I wanted to accompany on the keyboard. A terrifying request, since I had major insecurities playing in public. But I did it. I may have turned the keyboard way down, letting the band director’s keyboard take the lead — but that octave chord at the start of each chorus? All me, baby.

#6 Christmas Children – Scrooge

Okay, when I was typing about #5 and eventually stopped crying, this song came to mind and actually laughed out loud for awhile. This is the song that Bob Cratchit sings to his children as they go around the marketplace, buying things for their Christmas dinner. This song cracks me up because my family watched this film every year for decades. And yet my brother and I never, ever knew the lyrics to this bloody song. If forced to sing it, it would go like this:

“Christmas something something in Christmas windows.

Christmas something something something goes.

Christmas la la la.

Christmas la. La la.

Something something something something no one knows.

Something something something young and old.”

…Nailed it.

#7. We Need a Little Christmas – Angela Lansbury

The Angela Lansbury version, right from Mame, is probably my favorite. One nerdy reason is in high school, we did “Hello, Dolly,” and I was thoroughly convinced “It Takes a Woman,” was the same song. The following year, we did “Mame,” and to my delight, I was pretty much right, since both were written by Jerry Herman . Another moment was my long-time friend Annie and I performed this song for our church Christmas show. It was… pretty sad. We choreographed it minutes before. But our priest thought we were just delightful, so…

#8. Twelve Days of Christmas – ALL OF THEM

There are so many freakin’ versions of this song, and I have a place in my heart for all of them, yes even the grating Twelve Pains of Christmas. Twelve Days was a huge hit in the 4th Grade Christmas Show. I auditioned for 9 Ladies Dancing, but got stuck with a solo in Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Whatever.

While some of these songs are so specific, you only know them if you already know them, if you know what I mean… you know…

Others are played ad nauseam for eight straight weeks. And that is a beautiful thing. If Bruce Springsteen didn’t come on every 21 minutes, my mom and I wouldn’t be guaranteed a great sing-off. The many different versions of Twelve Days give me and Cory something to argue about. Every time I hear Burl Ives’ Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, I think of my brother, which makes me think of Scrooge and Christmas Children, and I laugh. In fact, I’d argue that BECAUSE these songs are played so often is why they become important. It wouldn’t be nearly as funny if James and I didn’t get Christmas Children lyrics after one or two viewings. But after twenty? It’s damn hilarious.

And honestly, I could probably add to this list for awhile — Somewhere in my Memory, Feliz Navidad, Hey Santa, Carol of the Bells — but you get it. Christmas music does more than bring in the holiday season. It gives us the chance to create memories and traditions — and that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

What over-played Christmas song means something to you? Let me know in the comments or head over to Share Your Favorites!

Yes, I Love Award Shows

Yes, the Academy Awards are tomorrow. So, of course I could write a big, long thinkpiece about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, the disconnect between audiences and Academy members, the over-inflated pomp of an industry in love with itself….

I could also give you my Oscar picks, list who I think will win, who should win, and what kind of drinking game I’ll be playing (that’s actually a good one, but I’ll explain in another post).

I won’t be doing any of those things, not this time, anyway. It’s all been said already, so I’m not sure I can bring anything new to the crowded table.

Instead, I’m going to explain why I love award shows. I love them unconditionally. Without shame or guilt.

And it all goes back to the same thing: family tradition.

We didn’t watch sports in my house. My dad loves football, but if he dared watch a game, it was usually in his bedroom, door shut tight. That’s mostly because my mom does not like sports. At all. Growing up with four super-athletic, competitive brothers might do that to a person. You’re either with them or against them, and my mom was the latter. So no sports.

Honestly, this didn’t turn out to be a big deal. James and I were far more interested in movies and TV shows and theater and music, so it all worked out. Though it did make for some highly embarrassing gym classes, but that’s a post for another day.

In our house, it was not about the Super Bowl or the World Series. It was the Oscars. The Emmys. The Tonys. The Golden Globes. The SAGs. The DGAS. All the Guild awards, really. When we were younger, it was the Kids’ Choice Awards and the MTV Movie Awards.

But it didn’t start out to be a family event.

I’m not sure when, but from a really, really young age, I became fascinated with whatever my parents would watch after I went to bed. Probably because I would usually sleep with my bedroom door open slightly, and I would hear them cracking up. And it killed me. What was so damn funny? What are they talking about? (Side note: Neither my brother or I grew up with a TV in our bedrooms. I was in college when I finally got one. This played a HUGE part in my love for TV, but again, another post.)

They always watched award shows, so I wanted to watching along with them. I was so young, I rarely knew any of the celebrities by name, except maybe Robin Williams, but I recognized faces and voices. My dad yelled at the TV when there was a shocking win or loss. My mom would comment on the ladies’ dresses, questioning trendy colors and jewelry choices. Dad would (and still does) spout off facts and tidbits from the back of the room like a Pop-Up Video you couldn’t turn off.

When an award show would start, I was always allowed to watch the first hour or so. But come 9 or 9:30, I’d be sent to bed, forced with the decision to either hide behind the wall near the steps to LISTEN to the rest of the broadcast, or wait til morning when my mom would fill me in on the winners.

Typically, I’d be sent up during a commercial break. At each break, I would beg, “One more commercial! Just one more!” My dad would relent, and I’d pull the same thing until he said no. This worked for a few years, but when I got a little older, I learned a phenomenal trick.

I wouldn’t make a peep.

Once it started to get late,  I’d curl up tight in the corner of the couch and stay perfectly still. If I didn’t budge, nobody said anything. It was the weirdest thing.

I mean, okay, I knew my parents knew what I was doing, at least eventually. But it just worked so well, and it was thrilling. As the show would cut to commercial, my heart would race and I’d hold my breath, seeing if I could make it one more round.  It’s how I finally got to see an Oscar broadcast in its entirety.

Over the years, we developed little traditions, like mini parties and legendary drinking games.  It was always an affair.

So bring on the dreadful red carpet interviews, the stiff presenters, and the ceaseless commercial breaks – I will not be sent to bed.

(Well, I’m on PST now, so it’s still way too early for bed. But you get it.)

 

PS – Do you have a favorite Award Show host of all time? From ANY Award Show? Vote Here!