Christmas music

Santa What do you remember about Christmas growing up? Do you remember when it started? I was walking through Meijer with my kids the other day, just as the store’s Christmas displays were going up. I said aloud, to nobody in particular, “When I was younger Christmas was in December.” An older couple was walking in front of us and they heard me, I could tell in their body language and the slight smile as the husband looked at his wife. It was the last week of October.

When I think about Christmas, I think about silence. When I was younger there was stillness to the season. You felt removed from reality, isolated. No broadband, no wireless devices. Presents. Snow, if you were lucky. Darkness, fire in the fireplace accompanied by silence. Stillness. I wonder if this is something that is becoming an antique. I mean, I’ve seen 13-year-old kids with cell phones. Was the emptiness of the season an outdated thing? Nowadays I feel like we cannot escape, cannot have that anymore, that stillness. Maybe it is just a personal thing, as we grow up do we lose that peacefulness, that emptiness? I experienced it a bit a few years ago, driving around the MSU campus at dusk. It was empty and gorgeous in the pink sunset. Am I a relic? Do I expect there to be this sense that we all share that might be unfounded? I never remember seeing Christmas stuff in October. I remember waiting for the Sears catalog, but never in October. Did working in a mall do this to me? To the way I enjoy the holidays? 8 hours of music a day, lightning fast days with increasingly rude and frazzled customers. A day off work but before you know it you’re right back into the thick of things the very next day. I wonder if this is a side effect of aging, losing those moments and memories as life piles up around your feet.

Connick Christmas

I'm not really sure why my photo popped up on a Google Images search for "Christmas kids." I'm just happy to be here.

What do you think about Christmas music? I am one who believes that music is molecular, that something changes in you when you hear music. Memories are instantly associated and strengthen those connections. For me there are a few memories of Christmas music growing up. The biggest is obvious and I will discuss it in a few weeks. For now I’ll talk about the first Christmas LP I can remember, John Denver & the Muppets. I remember my parents having the John Fahey Christmas LP, the cover is a dead give away, and who amongst us didn’t either have a copy or know someone with a copy of Mitch Miller’s Christmas Sing-A-Long LP.

I spent eleven Christmas seasons in retail: six working in a proper record store, five working in a bookstore with a music department. At the record store we played the music of the season sparingly, tastefully. At the bookstore we played the music offensively, all day in many cases. I feel I have seen both sides of the holiday music coin. I prefer the first way, as a feature to enhance business and set a mood rather than a tool to sell things. Call me old fashioned. I never gave the music thought at the record store but found it oppressive at the bookstore, which led me to owning Holiday CDs but never choosing to listen to these records. Five Christmases out of retail have sort of cured those ill feelings.

I spent four Christmases as a DJ on a local radio station. There was a rule at WNMC: No Christmas music until the week of Christmas. Novel, when you think about it. Even with the availability of the music in the station the DJs, all volunteers, chose their holiday selections judiciously, respectfully. It was there, in the basement of West Hall, that I sort of re-learned to love Christmas music. I was able to find interesting recordings, play them in a way that fit the overall theme and feel of my show. Last year, far removed from both retail and radio, I actually played Christmas music recreationally. I would load up the CD player and let it play.

I have kids of my own now, two of them in fact. I want them to enjoy the season as a whole, and I want them to have memories of the sights, sounds and smells of the season. We have established a few traditions revolving around the holidays. An educational toy store in Suttons Bay hosts real reindeer and taking the kids to see the animals is one of the highlights of the season for me. Last year when I put on the Christmas music it was a nice, calm Sunday. I don’t remember if there was snow on the ground or in the sky. I do remember how nice it felt, sitting there and listening. I hope to give those feelings to my kids so that when they are in my shoes, maybe they will feel the same way.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at different Christmas music. I do not expect this to be a complete look, we only have a few weeks. Frankly we will be looking at a few of my own personal favorites. Some you may know, some you may not. I might even have a surprise to throw into a column or two. But please feel free over these next few weeks to talk about some of your personal favorite memories of Christmas music or any other Holiday music that you were raised on.

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