“Traditional holiday music” to me, means scratchy old records.
There’s strange-looking people on the covers, with lacquered or pomaded hair, and sweaters.
Golf sweaters, cardigans, turtlenecks, enormous cableknits, cashmere, V-necks, crewnecks.
How the heck do they get the crewnecks on over that bouffant hair?
Or do they just always have the sweaters on, and the hair is shipped in, layered on, and sculpted afterward? By the same crew that does the artificial snowdrifts.
Are Angora, Mohair, and Perry Como Hair all the same substance somehow?
These are the same people who engineered Stereophonic Recordings, the tailfins on the ’59 Cadillac Eldorado, and then the Apollo space mission, I guess they could do anything.
All of these inventions were adapted onto Santa’s sleigh.
I studied these record covers when I was a kid.
Sometimes the people seemed to have a lot of sideburns & weird sorts of pajamas on, like the crew of the old Star Trek, so I figured there was some connection.
We celebrate both Hannukah and Christmas in my house, and adding in Star Trek just compounded the confusion.
There seem to be more of these albums around the house every year.
The old folks don’t go to garage sales, so they must have discovered eBay. Or it may be down to one particular aunt, who’s cleaning out her garage, by UPS’ing everything to my parents.
In the family room, High Fidelity Long-Play albums are gently hissing and crackling on the hifi , and there’s a little wisp of smoke, as if from a tiny Yule log.
But it’s coming from the amplifier – the tubes have really heated up, and are incinerating the dust bunnies.
All 6,327 recordings by the Robert Shaw Chorale
They’re mostly 33 1/3, and full of lovely singing, but I really recommend playing them at least 78 RPM, or you’ll be in an Induced-Eggnog-Zombie-like state until Valentine’s Day.
The Christmas Waltz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfmcEok4mkE
Dean Martin, well-oiled in hair and spirits, sliding over the artificial snowdrifts in his holiday louche, singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”.
It’s a heartwarming tale about getting his date liquored up?
The Scratch’n’Sniff sticker on his old album still works! It says “Hey, what’s in this drink?” and smells like bourbon, Brylcreem & cigarettes.
A 4-disc set — Arthur Fiedler & The Massed Bagpipes of the Edinburgh Tattoo Presents “Awa’ ‘n’ Boil Yer Head, Ya Dobber Elf & Other Seasonal Favorites”
Impossibly high notes from the King’s College boy’s choir. The album cover says: “Festival of Nine Lessons. And Carols.”
I always figured it was some oldtime singers, like Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, giving the choirboys a hand, but they aren’t listed on the liner notes.
The Nutcracker Suite is magical every time.
I searched for other pieces that use the celesta, that delicate, beautiful little chiming sound – – and ran across Louis Armstrong & his Hot Five! It’s in the introduction to his 1928 “Basin Street Blues“! Ok, so that’s holiday music now – – I can see the Sugar Plum Fairy sneaking out of the ballet, picking up Louis, knocking back a few and hitting the town. You may have to cut & paste the link.
Digging farther back into the boxes of records, into the mists of time, the sweaters are now pinkish & woolly mammoth yarn. Back to the parental units’ high school days, during the Late Middle Ages: Steeleye Span sings Gaudete, Ex Maria virgine, gaudete. Back from the days of Silver Bells, Chestnuts Roasting, Gregorian chants and stuff like that. Some of the people on the record covers now have braided hair, leather jerkins & tights. Ancient hippy minstrels wailin’ on wooden flutes, lutes, sackbuts, primitive electric guitars, & whatnot.
What do all these jumbled tunes have in common? They’ve become part & parcel of the jumble of family tradition.
I had to check the spelling of “miscellany” and look at all these lovely synonyms:
salamagundi, medley, hodgepodge, potpourri, mélange
Don’t all these words just look perfect for the holidays?
Our family feast will always have a crazy assortment of foods – – some sort of roast meat, sitting next to the panzanella (in case there’s vegetarian guests), Penna. Dutch pickled eggs & beets, Penna. Dutch pickled piccalilli, Penna. Dutch pickled everything, mulled cider, maybe some borscht (the good kind, not the kind that tastes like beets), maybe this year, some Thai-style shrimp, and then Mexican Wedding Cakes, Hamantaschen, English plum pudding, etc.
Most dishes are attributed to a particular person, many no longer with us. It will never taste quite as good as when they made it, but we do our very best, to do it right. This Alka Selzter advertisement of a meal represents all the folks who’ve joined the family over the years. It’s not very Norman Rockwell-looking, but it’s very American, not the melting pot, but the mixing pot. Different churches, different faiths, or none at all. The religious break bread with the pagans. And what is old & traditional to some, is new and confusing to others.
The music on the old records is a perfect counterpoint – – it’s a crazy mishmash! Religious, profane, silly.
“Christmas” music encompasses hallowed hymns, ancient carols, Disney tunes, sentimental lounge acts, soul, singing chipmunks, mariachi remixes, etc. Poems of beauty and spirituality set to music, mix with “fa la la’s” when the carolers forgot the words after a few bowls of wassail.
“White Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Let It Snow!” etc. all written by nice Jewish guys.
There are essential messages that come “upon a midnight clear,” or with the Hanukkah Festival of Lights. The messages are not confused. They are absolutely clear and wonderful.
But we’re also allowed to celebrate and even cherish all this crazy confusion — the old, sometimes cheesy music, the crazy meals,and the crazy relatives. And different beliefs.
Up & Out of frozen ruts for the new year — try something new and random, mix it up. There’s an old Royal Navy toast “To the Confusion of Our Enemies,” but I wish a dash of confusion and mayhem, in the best possible way, for my friends.
We will not always have a perfect comprehension of everything.
We will not always understand everything, and everyone.
Pick out some people who’ve always confused us, and even if we don’t really understand them, be understanding.
We’re never going to understand everything and everyone, but we may just find something new and rewarding amidst the confusion.
I don’t know why people believe what they believe, or like the music they do, or eat beet soup, or wear ugly sweaters, or get religion, or lose faith, or fall in love.
So in the new year, I’m going to try to keep an open mind, even if it means sometimes living in a state of confusion.
I hope everybody is having a lovely merry & muddled ol’ time this holiday season!