Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas music and memories

Listening to the classic songs and carols that I grew up with is one of the things I really love about the Christmas season. With each year that passes, they become more important to me, I guess because they link me to my past as well as to my present. The way I prepare for and celebrate Christmas is strongly influenced by my memories of growing up as well as by the different people I’ve come into contact with through the years who have shared their Christmas traditions and favorite songs with me. As with films having to do with Christmas, I have my favorite Christmas songs and albums. I’ve already posted the lyrics to some of my favorite songs in previous posts. Interestingly, the I-Tunes store is having a ’12 Days of Christmas’ promotion until January 6th—customers can download one free song per day until that time. I’ve decided that I am going to download twelve different Christmas songs and put together my own collection of songs.

One of the earliest Christmas albums I can remember listening to as a young child was called Christmas in Italy. It had a picture on the LP cover that completely fascinated me as a child. I have a tape recording of the album but would love to get a hold of the LP. I actually found a link to the album on Etsy that shows the cover:, but the LP had already been sold. The cover shows two Italian children seated at a dining room table on which different foods, fruit, cake and wine had been laid out—an Italian Christmas feast. Their grandmother was serving them. The large high cake on the table appears to be a panettone, which is a fragrant-smelling and tasting Italian cake that my parents used to buy each year at Macy’s department store and that we ate for breakfast on Christmas Day. Panettones were always imported from Italy as far as I can remember; they appear to have come from many different regions in Italy. I still buy a panettone each year at Christmas. It’s not difficult to find them in Oslo. But back to the album—it is one of my favorites from childhood; the children talk in Italian in between the songs, and I always remember at some point that it sounded like they said my sister’s name, Renata. That somehow made it even more special.

Another favorite album is a collection of Christmas songs and carols sung by The Singers Unlimited. I got the LP as a gift from one of the doctors I used to work with at Memorial Sloan-Kettering back in the 1980s. It was one of his family’s favorites and he knew I would like it, so he bought it for me one Christmas. You can now buy it as a CD on Amazon: What makes it special is that the entire album (from 1972) was recorded ‘a capella’, without instruments, and The Singers Unlimited (a well-known jazz group) add their own special touch to all the songs they sing—jazzy vocals, interesting harmonies, lovely arrangements. Well-worth owning.

In later years I’ve acquired other collections of Christmas music that have joined the ranks of my favorites: A Windham Hill Christmas (II), Andrea Bocelli’s Christmas album (wonderful), A King’s College Christmas (British), Christmas with the Academy and Chorus of St. Martin in the Fields (British), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (lovely Christmas songs performed by the Vince Guaraldi trio). We also have a well-worn recording of the music by Tchaikovsky from The Nutcracker ballet. Attending the Nutcracker ballet each year is an annual Christmas tradition in our house that started in 1993 with a visit to the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre in Manhattan, and which we’ve kept up with in later years here in Oslo at The Norwegian Opera and Ballet.

I like celebrating Christmas in Europe; it lasts for more than just one day. You get a chance to enjoy the season and the holiday from the day before Christmas and for at least the week afterwards. The holiday is not over on December 26th.  And that is how we grew up, since that is how my parents celebrated the holiday. Our Christmas tree stayed up until the Epiphany on January 6th. Our tree now stays up even longer. The celebration of Christmas rounds out the year and prepares me for the coming of a new year. It is not about and never will be about materialism and commercialism for me. It is a celebration of the traditions, rituals, memories and spirit of the season and gift-giving is a part of that. But it is all the other things—the songs, films, preparation of food, going to church, and visiting family and friends, that make it what it is—a joyful, holy, special and sometimes sad time of year. I remember and miss those who are no longer with us—like my parents—but I know they are with me in spirit because I feel their presence during the holidays, and that is comforting. I understand the value and importance of traditions much more now that I am older; they keep you rooted to your past and give you a sense of identity in the present and that is a good thing. 

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