Marsha

Holiday music

I love the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the lights and the decorations and the smells (cookies!) of the holidays. It annoys me to no end when retailers start pushing holiday wares and exuding forced Christmas cheer early in the fall, when we haven’t celebrated Halloween (or even Labor Day, in some cases!) yet. Once Thanksgiving has arrived, though, it feels as though Christmas is now “permitted.”

No doubt this is partly related to the fact that, when I was little kid, my dad announced that “once you see Santa [in the Macy’s parade, which we watched on television every year], then the Christmas season has officially begun.” Like most people, I reached a point during my childhood when I realized that my parents didn’t know everything after all. On this, however, I still think my dad is right. Maybe that’s why, even though every year I tell myself that “next year, I will start my Christmas crafts in July so I have time to get them done!” I just can’t just find the right mood for them before November.

I am especially fond of Christmas music, even the schmaltzy stuff (though the Muzak versions and midi files definitely rank low on that list). Even though I am somewhat allergic to the word God, I actually like the sacred music more than the profane. And I like the old music more than the new. I’ve nothing against songs about Santa’s travel itinerary, but when it comes to stirring the pot of emotions they don’t hold a candle to songs about the religious aspects of Christmas or rousing tunes about wassails and boar’s heads. It’s sort of like walking into a huge, old cathedral in Europe and just feeling the waves of belief that built and sustained this amazing piece of art and culture, even if you harbor no such faith yourself.

Every year after Thanksgiving I pull out our books of Christmas music and start doing my best to fill my house with decent renditions of those songs. But because I haven’t played them at all for eleven or so months, they don’t sound so good. I’m a fairly capable sight reader at the piano, but it still takes me a bit of practice before a song sounds just right.

So this year, I broke with my own tradition and took out those books back in October. Opening them up was like greeting old friends: King Wenceslas, Jeannette Isabella, the three ships that are ever sailing. The “Nuns in Frigid Cells” were there, too. And I made some new acquaintances, too: “Masters in This Hall” (an Old French tune with lyrics by William Morris), “A Day of Joy and Feasting,” “Whence Comes This Rush of Wings,” “Shout the Glad Tidings,” “Noel, Nouvelet!” (late-15th-century French).

It felt a little weird to be playing Christmas tunes on deliciously warm, Indian summer days. At the same time, it was kind of nice to get an early, totally noncommercial glimpse of the upcoming holiday. And now (especially after the piano tuner finishes his work this morning) I feel prepared for Christmas on at least one front!

6 Responses to “Holiday music”

  1. Chrison 02 Dec 2008 at 9:36 am

    It probably won’t surprise you that I like my Christmas music quirky and offbeat. :)

  2. Deborahon 02 Dec 2008 at 10:01 am

    I totally agree with you about not wanting to see anything Christmas related before Halloween. I was amazed that in my little neighborhood the Christmas decorations were already up the day before Halloween this year. I said to myself, “Couldn’t it have waited until at least it was November?”. For me Thanksgiving does truly signify the start of the Christmas season. Even though I am one who will start her Christmas presents early. It’ so wonderful that you ventured into the piano holiday music early this year. You’ll be ready for sure.

  3. MACon 02 Dec 2008 at 11:09 am

    It’s bad enough that here in Podunk-on-Tiber that the only place I can shop is WalMart. Do they have to start in with the Christmas tunes the day after Halloween? I’m with you. No Christmas anything until after Thanksgiving.

    Our problem is that I don’t allow any religious Christmas tunes in the house at all. Our Christianity believes a) no mechanical instruments of music for religious songs; and b) if you don’t see Christians in the New Testament doing it then we don’t do it (worship-wise that is — electric lights and flush toilets don’t fall in the “worship” category). So, since the early Christians didn’t leave any record of celebrating Christ’s birth in the New Testament, we don’t either.

    I didn’t grow up that way, though. I grew up singing all the Protestant favorites (no “Ave Maria” in Baptist churches). That means I’m really conflicted about religious Christmas music. So, it’s lots of “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph” in our house. But, sometimes, when I’m in the car alone and the local NPR station is playing a 14th century carol, I don’t change the channel. I feel guilty about listening to “Joy to the World” (even though it’s my favorite Christmas carol), but I don’t mind unfamiliar Latin chants or German carols.

    Odd, eh? It’s funny where our individual journeys of belief (or disbelief) take us.

  4. Amyon 02 Dec 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I love Christmas. But not when it starts in August. Although I did start my Christmas knitting in August, because I’m so slow it’d never get done otherwise. I like all kinds of Christmas music–old, new. But the one I really, really hate is the one about the kid whose mother is dying on Christmas Eve and he goes out to buy her a pair of shoes, but he’s too poor…good lord. What sadist wrote that one.

  5. Frankon 02 Dec 2008 at 1:39 pm

    I agree that Christmas should be limited to after Thanksgiving. I’ll forgive Hobby Lobby for opening its Christmas section early, to give craftsy people time to get ornaments done and such, but Wal-Mart, Target, etc. are all downright annoying with the early seasonal stuff: shouldn’t they be getting out the school supplies right now?

  6. Micheleon 18 Dec 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Marsha, I know this is a late reply, but I echo everything you said in this paragraph:

    I am especially fond of Christmas music, even the schmaltzy stuff (though the Muzak versions and midi files definitely rank low on that list). Even though I am somewhat allergic to the word God, I actually like the sacred music more than the profane. And I like the old music more than the new. I’ve nothing against songs about Santa’s travel itinerary, but when it comes to stirring the pot of emotions they don’t hold a candle to songs about the religious aspects of Christmas or rousing tunes about wassails and boar’s heads.

    And Chanticleer does a lovely a capella version of “Noel Nouvelet” :-)