Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas traditions, new and old

It doesn’t really feel much like Christmas for me yet … given that I don’t bother with decorating my own place, as I don’t spend Christmas there, and I don’t start shopping until I’m back in Ontario, my run-ins with Christmas spirit tend to be incidental: stuff on TV (such as the Iron Chef chocolate battle last night), the decorations in the English office, occasional Christmas songs on the radio waking me up in the morning … And tonight I go to see a friend play Bob Cratchit in a musical version of A Christmas Carol. So there’s that.

Even so, the rhythm of my life now brings with it a new set of associations that inevitably start simmering Christmas anticipation, and perversely enough, one of the big ones is grading final essays in December. The latter stages of grading provoke a shift at the molecular level as the end of the semester comes into sight and I feel increasingly inclined to watch and listen to Christmas-themed things. One of the big ones for me is listening to Dylan Thomas read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” something I have blogged about in previous Decembers.

And there’s also Christmas carols … but only some of them. Come Christmastime, my decidedly un-religious nature experiences a fundamental contradiction, as I tend to lean more toward traditional Christmas music: I love the more overtly religious carols, especially when performed chorally or orchestrally. I also have a weakness for the mid-century crooners, Bing Crosby in particular. I do tend to cringe when contemporary pop stars record Christmas albums … I hear enough Mariah Carey and Celine Dion in shopping malls through the year without needing to hear their deformations of “Santa Baby” or “Silent Night.”

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan doing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” is now one of my favourite versions of my favourite carol, as is Loreena McKennit’s “Good King Wenceslas.” There’s also the new-old classics, by which I mean the things I grew up with—such as Bing Crosby and David Bowie doing “The Little Drummer Boy,” and pretty much all of Boney M’s Christmas album (was that laughter I heard in the cheap seats??). And of course the twin pinnacles of my childhood Christmas: John Denver with the Muppets and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, both of which are in my iTunes library.

(And to digress from music for a moment, I should add two more recent additions to my annual Christmas viewing: Love, Actually and the Christmas episode from season one of The West Wing, the latter of which takes first place in the list Television Guaranteed To Make Chris Cry No Matter How Many Times He Watches It. Dear god, I’m getting a lump in my throat just writing this).

And then there are the new-new classics, songs you hear and immediately know they’re there to stay. Which this year happens to be my boys doing “I Believe in Father Christmas”:


airfair crew said...

Read your blog and mmediately put 'Love Actually' on. Laughed, cried and sang along. Love that movie. Not a high brow, artsy film, but definitely a "feel good" Christmastime moment! Thanks for the reminder.

Ruth J said...

I've been switching between Mr. Crosby and Mr. Sinatra all week. The Bing Crosby Christmas Classics album is sooo good!

And I watched 'Love, Actually' just a couple nights ago. The movie makes me feel so happy and so sad at the same time.

Some of my other non-traditional Christmas favourites include 'Fairytale of New York' by The Pogues, 'Wintersong' by Sarah McLachlan, U2's version of 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),' and 'The Christmas Song' by Dave Matthews Band.

Melissa said...

I've been reading your blog for years and could have commented on so many things, but Boney M?!? I knew you were a kindred spirit!

How's Clarence?

Lesley said...

That's funny because I pulled out Love Actually to watch while wrapping presents the weekend before Christmas. It always makes me feel Christmas-y. And I also agree on the old crooners. Christmas just isn't made without hearing Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosy and Nat King Cole. Those three seem to get me in the spirit. And agreed on Boney M. I happen to love their album. And I will also agree on the Muppets. I want to get a copy of the Muppets Christmas Carol because I enjoy that one so much more than any others!!!