This post has been on my mind since Thanksgiving, but I haven’t had much free time to write. The original plan was to do a different holiday topic each day up until Christmas, but as usual, time got away from me.
Through the years, I have developed my own list of essentials. My favorite holiday music, movies, and traditions. They are my must-do, must-watch, must-listen list that makes this time the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite tradition songs as well as some modern editions in this first post.
We’ve had a barrage of performances at school this month in addition to our children’s own holiday recitals. The quarter ended at school; grades were due. I made Christmas presents for almost everyone. Now I am almost ready for Christmas Eve…almost.
What keeps me going, keeps me moving at this time of year is the music. In the background as I plan, grade, type emails, wrap presents, knit, make presents, decorate the tree, the music plays, and it makes my work cheery and light.
I have loved holiday music since I could remember. I still have a musical stuffed Santa from the year I was born that plays “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and to this day, it is my favorite decoration in our home. Even the music at church seemed somehow more harmonic and angelic. When I grew older, I performed solos and sang in choirs. Holiday performances became the most wonderful time of the year for me because I was doing my favorite thing—singing Christmas music. Often rehearsals for these performances began in October, which is why I have never been bothered by the no Christmas music before Thanksgiving rule. I had to sing it in October, so there was no avoiding it before Thanksgiving.
My husband on the other hand hates the thought of holiday music before December. He believes this is a travesty. The kids and I get a kick out of sneaking a listen in the car on the way to school as soon as Sirius XM starts to play it. (It’s not even a lie how excited I was to find the Hallmark Christmas Music channel there this year). But he doesn’t love Christmas music even in December. In fact, he often delivers diatribes about ridiculous lyrics or how they don’t make any sense. (In fact, I’m allowing him to follow up with his own post here).
Without further ado, here’s my list of essential holiday songs:
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”–Judy Garland
This song is everything that Christmas is to me, which is why this is the only version of this song. I am appalled each time I hear some artist add this song to his/her list of performances because I know he/she will sing “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” and despite arguments for others, this is not the lyric. The lyric in the only acceptable version is: “Through the years, we all will be together if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.” That’s the message. We go work through the year only to end it surrounded by our friends and family. It’s what keeps us going until the holidays. At least for me–because my favorite part is being with my friends and family—not hanging some star on the tree…which is the most random line in a Christmas song that I can think of at all. We can thank Frank Sinatra for that one; however, his version isn’t even in my top 10 anyway.
“Merry Christmas, Darling,” The Carpenters
The Carpenters will appear on this list more than once because it is hands down my favorite Christmas album. I played it so much when I made candy early in my marriage, that it may, in fact, give my husband seizures. I still smell warm fudge when I play it. This song is my favorite on the entire album. Karen Carpenter’s voice swells on the line “I’ve just one wish on this Christmas Eve..,” and I am undone. As I have lost some dear to me, that line is my one wish–“I wish I were with you.”
“The Christmas Song,” Nat King Cole
From the rising lines of the orchestra in first measure, I am hooked. This song is such a part of the background of our family parties that I can’t imagine opening one gift without hearing his lovely baritone voice.
“Jingle Bells”, Barry Manilow featuring EnVogue
I have never liked the song “Jingle Bells.” Call it trauma from all the bad versions I’ve heard at piano recitals during my childhood, but Barry Manilow’s version’s features a different syncopated chorus that you can’t help but sing along.
“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” Bing Crosby
Nothing makes me smile more than singing “Rooty-toot-toots and rum-a-tum-tums.” This is my only reason for including this song. It is essential that I sing that line often each year.
“O Holy Night,” Josh Groban
There are so many beautiful versions of this song, but recently my favorite has been the version by Josh Groban. I am also a sucker for the Christian-poppy version by Cindy Morgan and Bryan Duncan from 1995. Not because it is particularly amazing or even a good version, but it is the Christmas duet that my uncle and I sang when I was in high school. Nostalgia, folks.
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Andy Williams
This song encompasses what I feel about the season. It’s an essential list of all I enjoy at this time, and Mr. Williams’ version is the best. (My husband’s own version follows a close second for its solid accuracy and truth.)**
“Christmas Waltz,” The Carpenters
The Carpenters, A Christmas Portrait, is the first time I heard this song. With lyrics as sweet as candied ginger, it brings me joy and has me waltzing in the kitchen and singing as I spread royal icing on gingerbread men.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, Harry Connick, Jr.
Nothing. We never do anything on New Year’s Eve. Honestly, we fall asleep even before midnight. But I still love the promise of romance in this song and all its sweet simplicity.
“Sleigh Ride,” Leroy Anderson
I can’t imagine the holidays without this song. Orchestras often end their Holiday Pops concerts with this song, and I have clear memories of walking out of the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra’s annual holiday concert into the cool, crisp Texas air arm-in-arm with my dad singing along. I wish I could do that again, but I live it a little bit each time I hear it.
While singing these songs signals the start of my favorite time of year, I have grown to also love these contemporary versions:
“Believe,” Josh Groban
“Silver Bells,” John Legend
“Cold, Cold Winter,” Ingrid Michaelson
“Present without a Bow” Kacey Musgraves with Leon Bridges
Guilty Pleasure Bonus:
“Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,” *NSYNC
Amber’s Essential Christmas Playlist
*My husband’s version of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” features the line “The kids jingle belling, and I’m what-the-helling.” This line describes his entire feeling during the holiday season, and we love him for it.