Christmas Archive

December 26, 2005
Christmas Quiz

Susie tagged me with this and expects to see it answered, so what can I do?

What you want for Christmas... if your friends were millionaires: Hmmm, a Toyota Prius maybe - both fun and saves money long term. Less expensive, less permanent (or is it?), and more meaningful: a trip to Germany or pay for her to come home for a visit.

What you want for Christmas... for real: books and DVDs, for example.

What you want for Christmas... in abstract: World peace, an end to hunger.

Year of the first Christmas you can remember: I can't remember which was earlier. One memory was getting to open a present of my choice on Christmas Eve and the box I chose turned out to be pajamas! What a disappointment! The other is visiting the extended family in NJ where there were at least 20 people participating and it was TOO MUCH. That event led to the decision that such a huge Christmas present orgy would never again be attempted, even if we were visiting at Christmas time again.

Ever in a holiday play? When? When I was in nursery school at an Episcopalean church in Arkansas I had problems with my social skills. I was cast as one of the donkeys, but I proved more muleish than donkeyish and refused to participate. I didn't like the robe I was supposed to wear or something. Funny that now I like being in the choir because I get to wear a robe so that I don't have to worry about what I choose to wear to church. :-)

An early Christmas memory? We took a trip to Arkansas from Georgia for Christmas with my father's parents (Mom's folks were the NJ clan). Since we needed to carry all the presents as well as the usual trip luggage, my Mom exhibited great creativity in wrapping presents. There were many presents which we would open only to find another wrapped present (or more than one) in some nook of the package so that the presents wouldn't take up as much space. Many times the interior present wasn't even for the person who had opened the exterior packaging.

Favorite holiday ornament (Past and present)Past: Hmmm, there are lots of ornaments and decorations I enjoy, but a favorite? I suppose the 1994 Swarovski Christmas Ornament which MM&I bought on our vacation trip in Austria that year. Since then we have bought many more of the annual ornaments issued by Swarovski, but that one started the tradition. Wait a minute! "Past and Present"? What does that mean? Are you trying to say that ornaments from the past are no longer in the present? People get rid of Christmas ornaments? What kind of crazy idea is that?

Classic Christmas song you never get tired of: Oh Holy Night is one I like a lot, but I have heard some awful recordings of this, so I guess I'd have to say a good recording of it, not just any recording, "good" to be defined by the listener.

Classic Christmas song you loathe: Loathe is too strong a word for it, but I do get tired of The Little Drummer Boy.

Modern Christmas song you never get tired of: Hmmm, this one is harder as I prefer the classic sacred Christmas carols to the newer songs which are almost always secular. I guess I'll say Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer because there are some recordings of this that I really do enjoy.

Modern Christmas song you loathe: Too many to name: Jingle Bell Rock, I saw Momma Kissing Santa, don't get me started.

How many languages can you say "Merry Christmas" in? English, French, Spanish, I may recognize more if I hear them, but I can't think of any others off the top of my head.

Naughty or Nice? We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God! None are worthy! Total Depravity! Yada, yada, yada, and all that Calvinist stuff for Scout. But generally, nice I guess.

Favorite Christmas Ghost: Christmas Present! Seeing all of the folks celebrating Christmas as Scrooge is shown what Christmas can mean compared to the painful experiences he had or will have unless he changes help us see what Christmas can be.

Favorite Misfit Toy: Hmmm... We have a bunch of the stuffed doll figures from the TV show, but I don't think I really have a favorite misfit, so I'll just direct your attention to this harsh critique which made me laugh, even though I love the show and watch it most every year.

Can you wrap presents well? I think I can wrap most anything fairly well. That doesn't mean I always make an effort to do a beautiful wrapping job. However, my little sister tells me that I was the one who taught her how to wrap presents (one of those things that she remembers better than I do).

What tops your tree? A gold-colored foil 5-pointed star.

If you were a Christmas elf, what would your name be? Suse loves this question? I'm just glad it is the last one. I have no idea what name a Christmas elf should have, and certainly don't know what mine would be. Why doesn't someone with some name ideas put together one of those "Which ???? are you?" quizes.

Who's IT: Well, Suse, I think naming "other rlp pirates" is sort of unfair, but I'll name a few specifically: revstacey, wandering willow, sugar, JLM, little green friend.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Posted by JoKeR at 11:27 AM
December 13, 2005
Merrywoods Singers

MerrywoodsSingersLetItSnow.JPGI have often bought CDs on the chance that it will be good. One such purchase from somewhere (I don't even remember where) is Let It Snow by the Merrywoods Singers. All I know about them is what I read in the liner notes. They are a quartet based in Los Angeles. They've had occasional appearances on TV shows, sung on albums recorded by others, performed at a presidential library, and perform regularly at the Regency and Sherwood Country Clubs in LA. A note I made indicates I bought it in 1999. They reference the web site of the company holding the copyrights: Platinum Entertainment, Inc., but the link appears to be dead. In any event, I have found the CD enjoyable. Interesting a cappella arrangements performed well. Good luck trying to find it, they don't seem to be very visible on the net.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:50 PM
December 12, 2005

I thought that I'd do something a bit different today with my Christmas music recommendations. In fact, I'm not even really recommending all of the recordings I mention here. I just wanted to identify some of the odder Christmas music which we have.

When discussing odd Christmas music you can't get much odder than Jingle Cats. Snippets of meows and yowls by cats, edited together to "sing" Christmas songs. When we first played this it freaked our cats out as they alerted when they heard these other cats "saying" nonsense. What I didn't realize when I started this post is that there are multiple Jingle Cats products including toys, books, videos, and who knows what else. This is not something we ever listen to all the way through (maybe the first time we played it), but it is on the juke box. I get a chuckle to hear one of these songs pop up ever now and then (every RARE now and then).

Having started with Jingle Cats, I guess I'll mention Woody Phillips' Toolbox Christmas. Instead of cats this features the sounds of a wide varieties of tools. The sounds of saws, hammers, and all sorts of things are edited together to make Christmas music. Unlike the Jingle Cats recordings which use normal instruments (plus some dogs barking) in addition to their distinctive cat sounds, the toolbox songs are all from shop sounds. It is impressive to hear just because it is so unexpected. But I don't have this in the regular rotation. As musical as Phillips has managed to make these sounds, it is still the sound of tools, not musical instruments. I found a little of this went a long way.

Bob Rivers has released a few different recordings of Twisted Christmas recordings. I haven't listened to these in years, but I still have a fondess for "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" sung to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun" from one of his other recordings.

Rita Ford has put together a recording of tunes played on music boxes. However, these are not your normal small music boxes. These are old boxes that use multiple different disks to play their music. They have a greater range of notes and a fuller tone than most music boxes you're likely to hear. This is a wonderful recording to have, but I find that after a few songs I'm ready to hear some singing or other instruments again. Unfortunately, Ford has concatonated multiple songs together so that the CD only has four tracks, each of which runs about 15 minutes. By the time I'm halfway through one track I'm sometimes ready for something else. Still, I would actually recommend this recording, unlike some of the others I've mentioned here.

Crash Test Dummies released a Christmas recording called Jingle All the Way. I enjoy this CD quite a bit, but I include it here because of some of the vocals. The lead singer of the group featured on their big hit "God Shuffled His Feet" has a very deep and almost mournful voice. When I hear him singing "Jingle Bells" the contrast is so striking between his voice and the usual tone of this song that I find myself laughing almost every time I hear it. For that reason alone I include it here among the oddities. Otherwise it is a very nice recording (I'm listening to it as I write this) and doesn't really fit with the oddities.

There was a limited edition release called Trojan Christmas Box Set. (Get your minds out of the gutter! Trojan is the name of the record label.) What I didn't realize when I bought it is that Trojan publishes primarily (exclusively?) reggae music. It was inexpensive and included 50 songs by artists I'd never heard of. I was hoping for some folk/blues/rock something. Instead I got reggae. I'm not sure that I've ever even listened to the whole thing. I think it is definitely odd. Amazon doesn't even seem to list it. That link is to BestPrices.com.

Clearly there are many more recordings of odd Christmas songs and songs about Christmas. I don't begin to claim that this list is comprehensive of either the market or even my own collection. However, I thought I'd share these few. What recordings do you have that you'd consider odd?

Posted by JoKeR at 09:50 PM
December 11, 2005
Westminster Choir

Christmas Masterpieces & Familiar Carols is another recording which we have had for many years. These are not a cappella performances, but the Choir itself is strongly featured with the instrumentalists serving more to accent the pieces than as equal partners in the music. All of the selections are sacred music (that is, none of the songs are pop music tunes) which is important to me. I will sometimes see a Christmas recording by a performer I like, but if I notice that none of the songs have anything to do with Jesus or God then I'll usually not buy it. I enjoy some of the popular songs, but I prefer the songs with a religious meaning. Anyway, the Westminster Choir give very well done performances of many well known, and some not so well known, Christmas carols. Always in the rotation come the season.

Posted by JoKeR at 10:51 PM
December 10, 2005
Judy Collins

Judy Collins has a few Christmas recordings, but it is the Biltmore Estate recording which I have found myself noticing as it comes up on the juke box. It is a live recording with some support from a children's choir and other musicians. Her voice sounds like it may have improved with age. It is very full and gentle, not wavery (is that a useful description?) as sometimes happens with older singers. Standard Christmas songs and carols performed extremely well. Worth hearing.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:47 PM
December 09, 2005
Inner Voices

This is a recording I picked up years ago as a cut out. I had enjoyed the Roches "We Three Kings" and saw this CD featuring four women singing Christmas Carols in tight harmony and decided I'd give it a try. I have enjoyed it right from the first. For some reason my wife doesn't care for it so much so I try to listen to it when she's not around, but the other Amazon reviewers agree with me that this is a wonderful recording. Apparently it is now out of print and dealers are asking collectibles prices for the used copies. If you ever stumble across a copy of this at a decent price I recommend you pick it up. I only rarely decide to spend as much as $20 for a single CD, so I won't urge you to pick this up at their prices unless you have more spare cash than I do (a distinct possibility). But if you enjoy interesting vocal harmonies and Christmas music, then I hope you will get a chance to hear the Inner Voices' CD sometime.

Posted by JoKeR at 10:45 PM
December 08, 2005
Christmas in the Smoky Mountains

smokyMtnXmas.JPGWhile on vacation some time back I bought a CD called Christmas in the Smoky Mountains (sorry, the only place I could find it online is on eBay, so that link will probably expire before too long, but as of this posting it is still available, and only a $0.49 bid required!). This is basically old-time folk music featuring guitar, mandolin, violin, harpsichord, banjo, harmonica, and other acoustic instruments. While this is not the most deluxe production or arrangements I find it enjoyable and am glad I picked it up. Buying Christmas music CDs as souvenirs has become a regular routine for me when I travel. It has led me to all sorts of unusual recordings and some of them are very enjoyable. At the very least they help to bring back memories of various trips.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:33 PM
December 07, 2005
Snow Angels

I bought this because it had some of my favorite singer/songwriter performers on it and because it was cheap. When I first listened to it I was disappointed. I did not find it very exciting or vibrant. However, as I've had the christmas music on random play for the last couple of weeks I repeatedly noticed a track and thought "That's nice" or "That's interesting" and checked to see what was playing (usually the monitor had gone to the screen saver so I had to tickle it to wake it back up) and found it was one of the tracks on this recording. So I spent some time this morning just listening to this single CD and I found I really do enjoy it. The arrangements are generally sparse, half the songs have nothing but vocals and guitar (Joan Osborne's "Children Go Where I Send Thee" is accapella except for some finger snaps). Some of the vocalising is not as polished as most of the other recordings I've recommended, but I enjoy this accoustic/folk style of music and these performers are some of the best around. I hope you'll give this one a try as it is not one that most people are likely to have run across. And besides, it's cheap!

Posted by JoKeR at 12:32 PM
December 06, 2005

George Winston's December was one of the first CDs we got after buying our first CD player. Solo piano improvisations on classic Christmas songs (at least, it sounds sort of jazzy/improvisational to me). We've been listening to it ever since. In looking for a link for it I see that there is a new 20th anniversary edition with additional tracks. I may have to check that out. I only have the original recording, but it is one of our (many) favorites.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:24 PM
Save Christmas! NOT!

The NY Times has an article about efforts to coerce stores to use "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays" or whatever.

A not-so-brief excerpt:

America has a complicated history with Christmas, going back to the Puritans, who despised it. What the boycotters are doing is not defending America's Christmas traditions, but creating a new version of the holiday that fits a political agenda.

The Puritans considered Christmas un-Christian, and hoped to keep it out of America. They could not find Dec. 25 in the Bible, their sole source of religious guidance, and insisted that the date derived from Saturnalia, the Roman heathens' wintertime celebration. On their first Dec. 25 in the New World, in 1620, the Puritans worked on building projects and ostentatiously ignored the holiday. From 1659 to 1681 Massachusetts went further, making celebrating Christmas "by forbearing of labor, feasting or in any other way" a crime.

The concern that Christmas distracted from religious piety continued even after Puritanism waned. In 1827, an Episcopal bishop lamented that the Devil had stolen Christmas "and converted it into a day of worldly festivity, shooting and swearing." Throughout the 1800's, many religious leaders were still trying to hold the line. As late as 1855, New York newspapers reported that Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches were closed on Dec. 25 because "they do not accept the day as a Holy One." On the eve of the Civil War, Christmas was recognized in just 18 states.

Christmas gained popularity when it was transformed into a domestic celebration, after the publication of Clement Clarke Moore's "Visit from St. Nicholas" and Thomas Nast's Harper's Weekly drawings, which created the image of a white-bearded Santa who gave gifts to children. The new emphasis lessened religious leaders' worries that the holiday would be given over to drinking and swearing, but it introduced another concern: commercialism. By the 1920's, the retail industry had adopted Christmas as its own, sponsoring annual ceremonies to kick off the "Christmas shopping season."

Religious leaders objected strongly. The Christmas that emerged had an inherent tension: merchants tried to make it about buying, while clergymen tried to keep commerce out. A 1931 Times roundup of Christmas sermons reported a common theme: "the suggestion that Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism." A 1953 Methodist sermon broadcast on NBC - typical of countless such sermons - lamented that Christmas had become a "profit-seeking period." This ethic found popular expression in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In the 1965 TV special, Charlie Brown ignores Lucy's advice to "get the biggest aluminum tree you can find" and her assertion that Christmas is "a big commercial racket," and finds a more spiritual way to observe the day.

This year's Christmas "defenders" are not just tolerating commercialization - they're insisting on it. They are also rewriting Christmas history on another key point: non-Christians' objection to having the holiday forced on them.

The campaign's leaders insist this is a new phenomenon - a "liberal plot," in Mr. Gibson's words. But as early as 1906, the Committee on Elementary Schools in New York City urged that Christmas hymns be banned from the classroom, after a boycott by more than 20,000 Jewish students. In 1946, the Rabbinical Assembly of America declared that calling on Jewish children to sing Christmas carols was "an infringement on their rights as Americans."

Other non-Christians have long expressed similar concerns. For decades, companies have replaced "Christmas parties" with "holiday parties," schools have adopted "winter breaks" instead of "Christmas breaks," and TV stations and stores have used phrases like "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" out of respect for the nation's religious diversity.

The Christmas that Mr. O'Reilly and his allies are promoting - one closely aligned with retailers, with a smack-down attitude toward nonobservers - fits with their campaign to make America more like a theocracy, with Christian displays on public property and Christian prayer in public schools.

It does not, however, appear to be catching on with the public. That may be because most Americans do not recognize this commercialized, mean-spirited Christmas as their own. Of course, it's not even clear the campaign's leaders really believe in it. Just a few days ago, Fox News's online store was promoting its "Holiday Collection" for shoppers. Among the items offered to put under a "holiday tree" was "The O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament." After bloggers pointed this out, Fox changed the "holidays" to "Christmases."
More Articles in Opinion >

OK, so I quoted nearly the whole thing. I just don't want to have a useless post if the link dies.

Posted by JoKeR at 10:58 PM
December 05, 2005
Butch Thompson

Butch Thompson recorded Bethlehem After Dark with Laura Sewell. Thompson plays piano. Sewell plays cello. No vocals. The arrangements are simple yet very effective. I prefer this recording to Thompson's other Christmas recording because the cello adds a wonderful counterpoint to Thompson's piano which makes for a much richer sound, while still maintaining an elegant simplicity. They pass the melodies back and forth so that they are beautifully entwined. Both Thompson CDs stay in our Christmas music rotation, but this is the one that I prefer.

Posted by JoKeR at 04:05 PM
December 04, 2005
Manhattan Transfer

The Manhattan Transfer released this Christmas recording more than 10 years ago. They have released many recordings which have some very fun arrangements of popular and jazz songs featuring the Transfer's wonderful vocals. Their Christmas album is more subdued than I expected when I bought it. I was thinking that their renditions would be bouncy and exciting, but it is actually very laid back and relaxing. This is not always the mood I want for my Christmas music listening, but when that's what I want I can't think of a smoother, more beautiful set of songs than these from this group of talented vocalists.

UPDATE: OK, as I wrote this I started listening to this recording again. While there are some very mellow tunes here there are also a few nicely upbeat and jazzy renderings. My overall impression is still that this recording is not as energetic as some other Transfer recordings or as I expected it to be. In any event, it is very nice and is regularly in our Christmas music rotation.

Posted by JoKeR at 04:50 PM
December 03, 2005
Philadelphia Orchestra

This recording by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra has been in our Christmas rotation for many years. Good arrangements performed beautifully. A thoroughly enjoyable recording which I would recommend to anyone for their Christmas listening pleasure.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:57 PM
December 02, 2005
Charlie Brown Christmas

This is a classic christmas recording. The music is itself very enjoyable, but the thing that makes this special is, of course, that this was the music from the first animated Peanuts television special. A Charlie Brown Christmas is something that we try to watch every year. Its timeless commentary on the meaning of Christmas is welcome anew each time we hear Linus recite the story of the shepherds and the angels. And even when we don't see the video, we see it in our mind's eye when we hear this wonderful music that has become (IMHO) an icon of Christmas in America.

Posted by JoKeR at 12:59 AM
December 01, 2005
Oy to the World

Oy to the World by the Klezmonauts is a funny collection of songs sung in a klezmer style. It has songs about both Hannukkah and Christmas (what? you need a link for that?) related topics such as Santa Claus. I don't know that I consider it one of the best Christmas/holiday recordings ever, but it is so very different from any other Christmas recording I've heard that I thought it deserved a mention. What I don't understand is that Amazon lists it as only being available as "new and used" as a collectible, when it is available from the Klezmonauts themselves at the Oy to the World website refereced above. It doesn't seem to list the price, but when I stepped through the buying process (stopping short of actually buying) they offer them for about $15 apiece (actually, their default order is three copies, but it looks like you can adjust the quantity). I wonder why they aren't listing it with Amazon? In any event, this is a very different kind of Christmas/holiday recording and sure to get a laugh from most anyone.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:13 PM
November 30, 2005
Dream a Dream

I think that Charlotte Church really does have a voice like an angel. I have enjoyed her Christmas recording Dream a Dream many times. She is not as polished a performer as Julie Andrews or Barbara Cook, but I do love the sound of her voice. While I'm not too sure I'm going to get her latest recording which is a foray into pop music, I have enjoyed many songs from her other recordings. The frustrating thing is, I cannot find my copy of "Dream a Dream" I misplaced it before I started ripping CDs onto my dedicated music computer so I don't even have it there. One of these days it will turn up again. In the meantime I'll just have to remember.

Posted by JoKeR at 11:13 PM
November 29, 2005
Mannheim Steamroller

Mannheim Steamroller has now done several Christmas recordings, and I think this one was the first. After all these years they have almost become too familiar instead of innovative as they seemed to be when they first recorded it, but I still enjoy their recordings quite a bit, the earlier ones more than the more recent ones. Their synthesized, new age kind of sound is quite different from most Christmas recordings, but beautiful and invigorating.

Posted by JoKeR at 10:42 PM
November 28, 2005
Canadian Brass Christmas

I'm not really familiar with the Canadian Brass except from their Christmas recordings. This is my favorite of their Christmas albums that I've heard. The music is beautifully performed and the arrangements are interesting. One point in particular that makes this recording stand out is the humorous renditions of "Frosty the Snowman" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." I've got a variety of Christmas recordings which feature different instruments. Originally I bought this in order to expand that collection by adding a brass ensemble Christmas recording. However, the beauty and joy presented have made this a favorite of myself and my family for many years now.

Posted by JoKeR at 06:06 AM
November 27, 2005
Robert Shaw Christmas

Robert Shaw is one of the most celebrated choral directors in living memory. He has directed multiple Christmas recordings, including The Many Moods of Christmas pictured here. He is best known for directing the Robert Shaw Choral and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In fact, there are recordings available of this music by both of these groups directed by Shaw. The chorus I sing with is going to be performing part of The Many Moods of Christmas in concert this coming week. Even though this is the Shaw directed performance I have picked specifically to feature, I also recommend the other Shaw directed Christmas recordings, of which there are several. I think I've got them all and have enjoyed every one of them. These would be a fabulous addition to any collection of Christmas music.

Posted by JoKeR at 12:14 PM
November 26, 2005
Peter, Paul, and Mary Holiday Celebration

ppm_holiday.jpgPeter, Paul, and Mary's "A Holiday Celebration" is the next Christmas music recording I wanted to mention. This is a bit unusual for PPM as they have an orchestra and choir supporting them, but the three of them are still the focus of the music. They do terrific renditions of several Christmas classics as well as music from other traditions. I found "Light One Candle" to be an especially moving song. They finished up their concert by performing an encore featuring "Blowing in the Wind", which, while not a holiday tune, is still a powerful song.

Posted by JoKeR at 01:36 PM
November 25, 2005
Julie Andrews Christmas

OK, I cheated. I back dated that last post in order to put it on yesterday so that I can immediately write another post about some more christmas music.

Julie Andrews has released multiple christmas recordings, so I just picked one to feature, but I recommend them all. I don't want to spend multiple days mentioning each different recording I have by her and I'm not even sure if they are all available, so this one can serve for all.

Julie Andrews has been one of the great singers in my lifetime. She is well beloved for her many stage and screen appearances (if I have to mention them by name then they probably won't mean anything to you anyway, you hermit). Her Christmas recordings are beautifully recorded and arranged. Her vocals soar above the instrumental accompanyment without being obtrusive. Her selections are timeless classics and a worthy addition to anyone's Christmas music playlist.

Posted by JoKeR at 01:57 AM
November 24, 2005
We Three Kings

Now that we are past Thanksgiving I guess we are in the Christmas season (at least as far as music on the radio, in the stores, etc. is concerned). With that in mind I thought I'd spend some time talking about some of my favorite Christmas music. In order to keep this post short and to give me something to write about over the days to come I plan to write about one CD per post. You've been warned.

One of my very favorite recordings, one which I have recommended again and again over the years, is We Three Kings by The Roches. This is a very fun recording of songs that these sisters have sung together for years. Some of them they grew up singing. Some of them are done very seriously presenting the reverent tone of the song. Others are quite silly. Frosty the Snowman is especially funny as they sing with some children, chiding them about believing in a walking, talking snowman to which the kids respond by yelling back "He's REAL! What do YOU know? You're just a bunch of grown ups!"

If you're not familiar with the Roches then they are worth getting acquainted with. The three sisters sing in wonderful harmonies. They have sung back up for Paul Simon and many other artists. In addition, they have released more than a dozen recordings, mostly as a group but also as individuals and duets. But despite my enjoyment of the multiple Roches CDs I have, the one I listen to the most is We Three Kings since it gets played every year, while the others might not get pulled out so often (too many CDs, too little time).

Posted by JoKeR at 11:58 PM