We put up our Christmas tree tonight.
Seventeen years of Christmases together and Ginger and I have some definite traditions and patterns. Since both of us have sinus issues with real trees, we’ve always had an artificial one. My job is to assemble the tree and string the lights, which always means we’re a day later getting the tree up than we planned because the lights I saved from the year before never work and I have to go buy new ones. I get to pick the music while I’m doing my part and this year it was James Taylor.
Once I’m done, the real fun begins. Ginger hangs the ornaments and the music changes. The first song is always Brenda Lee singing “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” followed by Elvis singing “Blue Christmas.”
There are certain songs and voices that make it feel like Christmas is coming. On everyone one of Amy Grant’s Christmas records (has anyone recorded more?) there are songs I love to hear. Though I’ve never lived in the state, “Tennessee Christmas” is tied to the season for me. “Emmanuel (God With Us)” on the last record moves me. I have an old Christmas CD by the Roches that I love because of their wonderful sibling harmonies. They even do an acapella Hallelujah Chorus.
The song, “In the Bleak Midwinter” is one of my favorites, regardless – almost – of who sings it. We have wonderful versions by Shawn Colvin and James Taylor, to name a couple. If you would like to find a gem, go to iTunes and search for Christmas in Our Time, an old Urgent Records compilation. Billy Crockett and Bob Bennett sing the song to the English tune and it is well worth the buck.
Then there are the songs that wander off the beaten holiday track. I’ve always liked Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” as much for the mood it sets as anything. I learned from Mark Heybo that Over the Rhine has a Christmas record, Snow Angels, that – if they are in true form – will be a different kind of holiday ride. My favorite melancholy Christmas song is Joni Mitchell’s “River”
it’s coming on Christmas and they’re cutting down trees
putting up reindeer singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river I could skate away on . . .
Again, James Taylor does a mean cover.
One of the things I loved most about worship last Sunday was our music director played “Christmastime is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas. If you want to hear a different take on the tune, chase down Diana Krall’s version. As with most anything she does, it’s amazing.
If there’s one song I’m quite humbug about, it’s “O Holy Night.” I just don’t like it. Never have. That is until my brother sent me a CD with the absolute worst version of it that has ever been done in the history of the song. I wish I knew the story behind the recording, because it feels like the guy means what he’s singing and is entirely incapable of the task he chose for himself. If you’re like me, you will fall on your knees – laughing.
Now that the tree is up, the lights stay on until we take it down after Epiphany. And the music will keep playing as the soundtrack for our days. We do have one choral CD of the choir at King’s College. They sing songs with more history than most of the popular records we have. The song I wait to sing every year is “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” my favorite carol, mostly because of this verse:
and you beneath life’s crushing load
whose forms are bending low
who toil along life’s climbing way
with painful steps and slow
look now for glad and golden hours
come quickly on the wing
o, rest beside the weary road
and hear the angels sing