dazzling and interesting on a shoestring
How do the destitute celebrate Christmas? (That really depends on what they believe in.) At our house, we put up colored lights and decorate a Christmas tree. This year, it’s a tiny tree, because it has to be out of reach of four eager, uncontrolled and mischievous little hands. It’s festive, but not terribly fashionable. Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, Ree Drummed nor Elle Décor had any influence on our choice of tree trimmings. Mine and my husband’s childhoods had the most influence—Jim Henson, Kiwiana, the grunge era and a love of jazz and good bass players. There’s nothing on my front door proclaiming, ‘It’s Christmastime and we know it!’ You can’t see our tree from the front window—in fact, you can barely see our tree from across the room. But we know it’s there.
I like to put on Christmas music, because despite the fact that I believe in the original meaning of the celebration (a day, not necessarily historically accurate as the 25th of December, to celebrate the birth of Christ, the Son of God, who was eventually crucified and rose again to save me from my sins and allow me to spend all eternity in heaven with Him when I die) it’s really the only time of year I listen to Christian music. That’s due to musical taste, not an aversion to the message.
Here are a few of my favorite Christmas tunes:
‘Ave Maria’ by Chris Cornell and Eleven (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
The tune is a familiar one, but the voice is unusual for what is usually sung in an operatic style. But being the grunge-child that I am, I love it. The song is a great tribute to the Virgin Mary, who is a minor star in this whole Christmas story, and being a mother, I cannot help but wonder at this young woman who gave birth to the Christ child in a stable, amidst rumors of scandal. What a woman. Chris Cornell’s voice gives the song the kind of grittiness that I think goes properly with such a birth scene.
‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ by Whitney Houston (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 1) This is Whitney Houston and modern gospel music at its finest. This was the kind of music she was born to sing, not sappy love songs for a scumbag like Bobby Brown. Brings tears to my eyes, not least of all because I will never be able to sing this great classic nearly as well.
‘O Holy Night’ by Tracy Chapman (from A Very Special Christmas Volume 3)
This is my favorite Christmas carol, regardless who sings it, or especially the red-headed woman named Anne who used to sing with the choir at church when I was growing up. If she sang this one at the Christmas Eve service, the whole evening was a hit. I love the lyrics to this song, by turns praising and in awe of such an event as the birth of Christ and then tender and sweet. Tracy Chapman’s sweet smoky voice and a simple guitar is all it needs.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Jingle All the Way
This is a family tradition that my husband and I adopted all our own, because who doesn’t need a little throat-singing and banjo-playing to shake up the likes of Bing Crosby and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Give me Bela over those ol’ stiffs any day.
John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together
This album (and I mean LP, until it was replaced by a digital version in the new century, though we still have the slightly scratched vinyl edition) is a tradition from by mine and my husband’s childhood. John Denver can’t be beat for writing songs from the heart, and any time I hear ‘A Baby Just Like You’, I get all teary. Denver wrote it for his son, Zachary, thinking of Jesus as an infant and all that must have meant to both His father in heaven and to Joseph. It reminds me of my children and it reminds me of my brother, who was a baby when the song came out. My mother used to change the line Merry Christmas, Little Zachary to fit with her baby son’s name. I insert any or all of my children’s names, even if they’re not so little anymore.
And on a lighter note, the asides of Miss Piggy in ‘Christmas is Coming’, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ and ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ are hysterical.
What are your favorite Christmas tunes? Are they family traditions or ones you’ve started on your own?