I enjoy a good classic holiday song, and I really enjoy inventive takes on the classics, here are some new songs, or comedy sketches that have become classics. Here is Mixed Tape of Holiday Music, that put together using Freegal. If you want to make your own holiday mix tape, Freegal is the place to go!
Be sure to check out A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi Trio from the library, and while waiting for the CD…here is a video of the song Linus and Lucy, which always brings me into a holiday spirit.
I have a secret. I love Christmas songs and have several hundred CDs and LPs that I haul out of the closet every year in December. I enjoy the standards but also like exploring the outer reaches of the canon, especially international takes on the holidays and I also go for cheesy novelty tunes.
How about Tuvan overtone singing, also called throat singing? You will find members of Alash joining in with banjo legend Bela Fleck to tackle Jingle Bells and What Child is This on the album Jingle All the Way. The Chinese Twelve Girls Band has a fine instrumental Christmas album called Twelve Girls of Christmas played on traditional Chinese instruments. Don’t miss Willie Colon’s salsa classics Asalto Navideño volumes 1 and 2.
Dr Demento brings the full Yule cheese-log to his Christmas compilations Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All-time and Holidays in Dementia. Just try getting the song I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas out of your head once it has taken hold.
Some great Christmas tunes are hidden away on albums that are not holiday albums. A song I never miss playing come the holidays is Fairytale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl from the album If I should Fall From Grace With God, it is both sacred and profane and always leaves a tear in my eye. John McCutcheon’s song Christmas in the Trenches is included in the children’s book and audio disc combination Christmas in the Trenches, it is another must this time of year.
The one movie I can't be without on Christmas is The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs' picture book. This Academy-award nominated short film is told through traditional animated pictures and music. The music, performed by the Sinfonia of London is perfect, and features the beautiful song, Walking in the Air, which has been covered by many artists. Since there's no dialogue, it can be enjoyed by non-English speaking families too.
One movie we watch every year at Christmas time in my family is Meet Me in St. Louis. Although it ends up on Christmas,some of our favorite scenes actually took place on Halloween. It's such a fun film, but it also has the somewhat melancholy song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, which, if you listen to the lyrics, couldn't be more perfect for a COVID Christmas.
We also always watch A Christmas Carol, and my favorite version is the original black-and-white one with Alistair Sim. It's scary, and really frightened me when I was a kid, but in a good way!
My favorite version of The Nutcracker ballet these days is Mark Morris' The Hard Nut. I love the traditional Nutcracker, but this one is really fun for a change. The story is more closely aligned to Hoffmann's original "Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and has every note of the classic Tchaikovsky music, but the story takes place in 1970's suburban America. It's campy, hilarious and exquisite.
My family celebrates Hanukkah too, and when the kids were young we always played Oy Chanukah, with traditional klezmer music in Yiddish, Hanukah Sing-Along for Kids featuring holiday songs in Hebrew, which are so familiar to me from my childhood, and we danced and sang to Woody Guthrie's Hanuka Dance sung by Nancy Raven. I still listen to these on Hanukkah, even though my kids have flown the nest.
There are plenty of timeless Christmas classic films to watch, but why not try some R-rated gems this holiday. Bad Santa is about an alcoholic mall Santa who robs the malls after closing with his elf crime partner. In Black Christmas (2006), Billy escapes a mental asylum and returns to his childhood home, now a sorority house. Silent Night is a slasher film about a killer disguised as Santa Claus.
If you are in the mood for holiday music, then let John Waters curate your Christmas soundtrack this year with A John Waters Christmas.
A Christmas Story is my absolute favorite holiday movie and one that I watch every year. Kanopy has a fun documentary about two people who try to visit all of the locations featured in the movie. I actually had a chance to drive past Ralphie's house a few years ago, so it was cool to see other people who are also this interested in the movie.
Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a somewhat surreal documentary about the Jewish musicians that made some of the most popular classic Christmas songs. And a counterpoint to that documentary is Jingle Bell Rocks, about one man's quest to find little known recordings of music critical, or at least that have alternate viewpoints, of Christmas time.
Donny Hathaway’s soulful R&B tune "This Christmas” from 1971 is a season standard and stand out. The song's animated music video fills my world with cheer!
A song certainly worth imitating, many—even Aretha—have recorded their own versions of “This Christmas”. But it is perhaps Patti LaBelle’s live performance at the National Tree Lighting from 1996 that is most fresh in people’s minds since it resurfaced in recent years. Seriously though, where were her background singers?!
The 2008 family dramedy This Christmas stars an ensemble cast including the likes of Idris Elba and Regina King. The music makes this movie.
Of course my holiday favorites include It's a Wonderful Life and Elf, but here are some lesser-known possibilities I want to share that I hope might bring some comfort and joy to your holidays!
LOVE THE COOPERS ... I mean, what is a holiday without family dysfunction (at least in the movies there is usually some resolution within 2 hours). Join the Coopers for a pleasant little holiday escape from your own family drama. I especially enjoyed the witty repartee between the pair in the airport, as well as the whole Cooper cast, which includes Diane Keaton, Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Timothee Chalamet, June Squibb, & Alan Arkin.
THE SNOWMAN -
a friend introduced me to this mesmerizing winter delight after a particularly harried day, and it was just the right calming antidote. The film has no dialogue, just lovely music, and is based on the wordless picture book by Raymond Briggs. This little film is a gem and is great for children and adults alike. It is worth the watch just for the beautiful song Walking in the Air. Even Kenny Loggins was inspired by it ).
FIREPLACE FOR YOUR HOME -
enjoy the warmth and calm of a virtual crackling fire with instrumental Christmas music as you wrap presents or curl up on the couch.
Interested in something different than the usual holiday musical selections.
Check out some holiday music for the rest of us.
During World War II, songwriter Lyle Moraine was stationed out in the ocean not far from Australia and an island named Christmas Island. It inspired him to create a holiday song that imagines a holiday, usually associated with wintry landscapes, in the tropics
The Andrews Sisters recorded the first version of "Christmas Island" in 1946 which is featured in the excellent vintage compilation of Christmas songs, Sentimental Christmas on Freegal.
I first encountered the song as a kid as part of the lush arrangements of composer/arranger Hugo Winterhalter's Christmas album recorded in 1958. The playful string and woodwind arrangement painted a musical picture of a magical paradise in my head. This version is streamable on Freegal as part of the Hugo Winterhalter's White Christmas collection.
The rhythmic syncopation of the verse of "Christmas Island" has long attracted a series of jazz musicians to this song including the great Ella Fitzgerald, who recorded it in 1960 as part of her awesome Christmas album, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas, available and streamable on Freegal as part of the expansive Ella at Christmas collection.
The song continues to appear in Christmas collections including Bob Dylan's first Christmas album, recorded in 2009, Christmas in the Heart, which is also available on Freegal.
Movies & Music - Question of the Week
Whether you think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not, there is no denying that the film is scored with a plethora of holiday music, including the tune “Christmas in Hollis” by this classic hip-hop trio.
The Beastie Boys0
The Sugarhill Gang0
Last Week's Trivia Answer: Reality Bites