Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tuning in to the Holidays

            It starts in our house around Halloween. That’s a solid month too soon, in my opinion. But I do not cast the deciding vote.
            You walk into my wife’s car, or into our house, on, say, Oct. 25, and you hear it right away – the jingle of bells, accompanied by a catchy tune about Santa or Frosty or Rudolph. Along with this music you hear the singing voices of three individuals – my wife, my older daughter, and my younger daughter. The dog does not sing along, nor do the guinea pigs. But if they could, I’m sure they would.
            Everyone in our house loves an early start to Christmas music – except for me. Call me crazy, but I prefer to hear my Christmas music during the Christmas season. Of course, the rest of my family reminds me that the season is whatever time period you define it to be. My wife and daughters happen to view it as a two-month advent season; I prefer the more standard, after-Thanksgiving definition.
            The interesting thing is, my definition seems to be the one on its way out. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of holiday-themed radio stations in America, and many of them are switching to this format earlier in November, if not sooner. A recent New York Times article by Ben Sisario identified an Atlantic City, N.J., station that switched to all-holiday music two weeks before Halloween. We’ve always noticed retail stores setting up for Christmas early; now the dials on our car radio are doing the same.
            In our house, we have an agreement that they don’t play Christmas music when I’m in the house until after Veterans Day. Amy and the girls kind of honor that, and I kind of let it go when they forget once in awhile. My reasons for holding off on holiday music are twofold. For one, I find the season to be a whirlwind of both joy and stress, and I prefer to take on that combo for one month instead of two. And second, I really, really like Christmas music – therefore, I don’t want to ruin it by playing those songs too much.
Scrooge said he would keep Christmas in his heart all year long; he didn’t say he would play “Jingle Bells” 24/7. There is a difference, in this man’s opinion. So while I’m always ready for community service, or gift-giving, or time with family, my ideal window for actual holiday songs is after Dec. 10.
And on a day like today – here on the doorstep of Christmas – I’m ready for all the holiday music you’ve got. Give me Mariah, give me those Very Special Christmas albums, give me the Rat Pack and Elvis and Band Aid and Burl Ives. Play it loud today. Jingle those bells. Run, run, Rudolph.
The cool thing about my family’s obsession with this music is that when I am in the mood for the stuff, I have quite the collection of holiday music from which to choose. A few years ago, I even bought Amy an iPod Nano specifically for her Christmas songs. It is completely full. So there’s a bounty of songs at my fingertips.
And there are is a lot of underrated holiday music out there. In terms of holiday albums, some of the best underplayed CDs are Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia, Darlene Love’s It’s Christmas, Of Course, and Chris Isaak’s Christmas. In terms of underrated holiday songs, I love Billy Squier’s “Christmas is the Time to Say I Love You,” The Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” Fiona Apple’s version of “Frosty the Snowman,” Louis Armstrong’s “Cool Yule” and Coldplay’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” to name just a few.
I could go on. If you buy the Andy Williams/Johnny Mathis-fueled cliché of it being “the most wonderful time of the year,” you can see why artists would want to write songs about happiness, faith and goodwill. The matching of catchy tunes with joyful hearts creates the perfect setting for uplifting art. We peer into the details of our lives and find it all there for the taking: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, treetops glistening, sleigh bells jingling – a beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight.
When you think about how much great holiday music is out there, it almost makes you want to play those songs a little earl – wait a minute. What am I saying? That’s not what I mean – the music’s good, yes, and I honestly could use a good two months to play it all, but do I really want to start it so soon? Wait, do I?
See, that’s the problem with these blog posts – you meander too much and you end up contradicting yourself! Or maybe, as you probe deeper into the issue, you start to recognize your true feelings. Maybe Scrooge does play holiday songs all year. Perhaps that’s the whole point. If these songs are a reminder of who we are at our best, why cap their timeliness?
It’s a question best left to each individual. For now, it’s December 24, and that’s as good a day for Christmas music as any. So soak it up, and sing it out. Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime.