Silent night? No, thank you. No disrespect to Mr. Mohr and Mr. Gruber and their carol, although it’s not my favorite---I always strain to hit the high notes in the “sleep in heavenly peace” part. I think Christmas should be anything but silent; it should be filled from bottom to top with music.
I share my father’s love of all things Christmas: The holy and the worldly, the Nativity and the tinsel. It’s not surprising that the grief I felt at his passing started to heal in earnest at a Christmas Eve service three months later. The music spoke directly to my heart in a way no words could, and provided complete assurance that Daddy was just fine.
I've collected Christmas songs and carols for as long as I can remember. I sang them to my sleepless babies and I sang them to my preschoolers as I pushed them on swings. I still sing them softly to myself as I shop.
I can’t pin down which tune is my favorite, but I can tell you which ones comprise my Christmas soundtrack. Here goes:
“Up on the Housetop”: Okay, so it’s nothing fancy, but this song was always part of the annual Christmas Eve show my older sister and I put on for our parents. Their anniversary was December 24 and our performance was our gift to them. My sister is almost eight years older than I, but she treated me like a partner in this annual production. I wish I could remember more of the details of our shows but I can picture the programs we wrote and decorated, the muted light of our living room, and Mama and Daddy smiling at us from their seats on the sofa. (And don’t forget to snap your fingers at the “Click, click, click” line.)
“Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle!” “O Tannenbaum,” and “Adeste Fideles”: These carols carry memories of my time at the Episcopal school I started attending in sixth grade. I found the Latin version of “O Come, All Ye Faithful" in a hymnal shortly after I started Latin classes and I considered myself quite the scholar when I memorized it. Mr. Olechovsky, my high school French teacher, taught us “Un Flambeau” and the original German version of “Oh Christmas Tree” although I can’t remember why. I don’t believe we sang it in a school program. There didn’t have to be a reason; Mr. O was excited about teaching and we wound up excited about learning.
“Here Comes Santa Claus” (the Gene Autry version, of course): I heard this song on the radio as a newlywed. Mr. Pettit and I were driving in our new hometown one night when Mr. Autry came on the radio. This was long before we owned a library of Christmas music, so we had to depend on the gentle mercies of radio programmers. Hearing the opening notes was akin to receiving an unexpected gift. I don’t know why this moment is engraved in my memory, but I can recall the warmth of that darkened cocoon and listening to a verse about how Santa knows we’re all God’s children and that makes everything right.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas”: After Mr. Pettit entered the Air Force most of our Christmases were spent far away from our families in South Carolina. We created our own rituals with our sons, but this song still makes me cry. “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”
“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” as performed by Mannheim Steamroller: I became acquainted with Mannheim Steamroller when we lived outside Omaha, Nebraska. I put the group’s “A Fresh Aire Christmas” cassette in my car’s player and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” came up first. The energy of their rendition surged through me and I felt all was right with the world.
“December” by George Winston and “Holiday Songs and Lullabies” by Shawn Colvin: I don’t have specific moments tied to these two albums, but they’re too good not to mention. Listen to either one and your blood pressure will drop by at least ten points. Bliss.
As I skid from task to task during the Christmas season it’s hard to see beyond my “to do” list and pay attention to the moments flying past. Familiar songs help me stop and get my bearings. What is on your Christmas soundtrack? Which songs hold special meaning for you?