The oh, so familiar sounds of the holidays
I am the family pariah, the aural outcast at this time of year. I am the only one who really, truly loves Christmas music. Every year I swear I'm going to swear off the stuff. I'm going to forgo listening to my very large, eclectic collection of yuletide tunes. Then, every year, I lose my nerve – and quicker than you can say "deck the halls," I'm humming along to Dean Martin, the Vienna Boys' Choir, or a gaggle of barking dogs yelping out the chorus of "Jingle Bells."
I have no shame when it comes to Christmas carols and seasonal songs. In fact, the tackier the better.
I believe this – dare I call it an obsession? – comes from spending a happy childhood in southern California, where there is no snow, no inclement weather to announce the advent of Christmas. Instead, the signs of the season are palm trees decorated with strands of tinsel and terra-cotta rooftops sprouting plastic reindeer.
For me, Christmas music used to take the place of snow – its unabashed hokum filling the air with tidings of comfort and joy – and, occasionally, soy (see the Yanni Christmas album). Of course, now with global warming, many formerly colder climates may have to make do with Muzak as well. Soon, "White Christmas" may only be heard, not seen.
And let's face it: The original Christmas was much more akin to Los Angeles than Boston – at least as far as the weather goes. But over the past 200 years, Christmas for many in the US has morphed into a New England-style holiday, replete with quaint clapboard churches, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and Jack Frost nipping at your nose. And by now everybody knows that the song I'm referring to, titled "The Christmas Song," was written poolside in July, in – naturally – California.
In spite of all that, I still love Christmas music. I don't like shopping, crowds, or crass commercialism of any other variety, but I live for the first time (and also the 27th) I hear Andy Williams sing "It's the most wonderful time of the year." (Although, thanks to a certain school-supplies commercial, that song also gives me goose bumps right around Labor Day, too.)
I'm surprised my family hasn't given me my own special MP3 player loaded with Christmas tunes. That would get rid of a lot of the tension that builds in the house or the car every time I reach for a CD this time of year. I could just hum along to myself, by myself, and let the other family members listen to NPR.
The problem is, I love to fill the air – and not just the space between my ears – with holiday music. I want the smell of cinnamon and cloves – not to mention the sound of Sting singing "I saw three ships come sailing in on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day" or James Taylor crooning "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" – pervading every corner of my house, my consciousness, and my life.
I'm sure I got this from my father: He was the original Christmas music lover in our family. He liked it loud. His playlist bounced from Ella Fitzgerald to Vince Guaraldi to Handel's Messiah to Spike Jones – with some Fred Warring thrown in for good measure.
My mom would grin and bear it, occasionally asking him to "turn it down." Not that he ever did, at least not for long.
So from him I acquireda need to share and an overwhelming desire to hear those "sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too" – in surround sound, of course.
I also like to pretend I'm in a made-for-TV movie (on the Lifetime channel, of course), where the brave deliveryman saves the day by bringing packages by sled just in time for Christmas, even though there's a blizzard and the housewife has been locked in the attic by a large prehistoric dinosaur.
But this year I'm trying hard to keep my tunes to myself. With two kids in high school and a husband who's still years away from retirement, I have plenty of time to break out my Christmas-carol collection when I'm alone – although sometimes I wish I had someone to share it with.
In another fantasy, I can just imagine the awful scene if I were discovered in the living room, listening to Frank Sinatra singing "O Tannenbaum" with another man. "Mother, how could you!" my daughter would say.
"No one would listen with me," is my feeble excuse.
But I am made of sterner stuff than that. And so I will listen on by myself, if I have to. Or maybe there's a support group out there – of Christmas-music people. Frankly, though, they probably all wear Christmas sweaters, send out long-winded Christmas letters, and make those inedible (trust me, I've tried) gingerbread houses.
That's not me (OK, maybe I do have a sweater or two). I just want the sappy, snappy tunes.
At least I have three dogs to keep me company during my holiday music revelries. Still, I've noticed they seem to be spending a lot more time outside these days. I wonder why.