This year, with political firestorms and the tragic, actual firestorms throughout my state, I’m craving the comfort of Christmas songs.
I want to hear the familiar carols, the goofy songs (“I’m Mr. Heat Miser”) and the smooth retro feel of classics from the 1950s and ’60s, that golden age of Christmas songs. Don’t get me started with the Christmas movies featuring those songs.
White Christmas isn’t a great movie. It’s the music that makes it. I watch it to sing along with Rosemary Clooney on “Sisters.” And hear Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sing the melancholy “White Christmas,” written by Irving Berlin, who was actually Jewish.
I’m dreaming of a white christmas/Just like the ones I used to know…
The song captures so well the longing for a time that never really happened. Christmas is invested with all that we dream of and realistically know the new year won’t bring us. But in the bleak days of winter, it makes us so happy to sing about it.
The highlight of my Christmas song memories has to be when I attended a multicultural church in San Francisco. I was in a 150-person choir, an incredibly diverse group of people. We did a funky version of “Winter Wonderland,” which I couldn’t get out of my head for years afterwards. After we sang the Hallelujah Chorus at practice, the choir director said, “Hey, guys, look around you. This is what heaven will look like.”
Last year, my sisters and I watched the movie musical, Meet Me in St. Louis, with my mom, who is bedridden, nonverbal and in the last stages of dementia. When the songs started up, she smiled and sang along, carrying the tune pretty closely but garbling the words. It was mind boggling. It made us cry.
A dementia expert once told me that a small part of the brain remains unaffected by mental deterioration. Things like songs and often repeated prayers live there. That’s where these Christmas songs will stay, locked deep within the lead-lined safes in our minds. We won’t be able to get away from them.
What are your Christmas and holiday favorites? What songs do you love? And love to hate?
Here’s my list. Feel free to dispute my choices.
My Seven Best Christmas Songs Ever
- O Little Town of Bethlehem
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing
- Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah
- Silent Night
- O Holy Night
- Winter Wonderland
- Do You Hear What I Hear? (fondly remembering the movie Gremlins)
My Seven Worst Christmas Songs Ever
- Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney)
- Little Drummer Boy*
- Last Christmas
- Santa Baby
- Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Secretly resent it because it took me years to nail the chord changes)
- Deck the Halls (Fa la la la la…It’s like they ran out of words)
*Exception: 1982 David Bowie and Bing Crosby duet. This is sweet and cheesy, and I love David Bowie so much, I could watch it again and again.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays, friends!