Playlist: Tidings of Comfort and Joy

I have suggested in the past that Christmas music benefits from being sequenced throughout the season. My A Saturday in November playlist put forth the notion that the music of Christmas could actually be handled like a musical. Even back in Apartment Zero Days, sequencing a mixed tape was a big deal to me. It had to do with flow and sustaining a mood, taking a listener by the hand and leading them down the path you would have them trod. In the case of those old cassettes, it was more about the music, making sure you sequenced the fast and the slow songs properly. With Christmas music, it’s much more about the lyrics.

Christmas is celebrated in many different ways. Consider even the things we all love to watch at Christmas time. Some films are incredibly romantic and the spirit of Christmas adds much to a burgeoning relationship. Other movies depict families with young children navigating the highs and lows and twists and turns of the holidays. And the varied musical Christmas specials many of us adore are filled with the wonderful songs we love, some sung quietly by fireside, some reverently in a church setting and others joyously aimed at children. These things as well may have a greater impact on viewers considering at which point in the season we watch them.

So, with this in mind, this is, I suppose, Part Two of Christmas: The Musical. My first playlist ushered in the season. This one will take us through to Christmas night when, sadly, it is all over for another year. Here, step by step, are various Christmas scenarios and the songs to go with them. I’m not saying you should make this playlist and sequence it as such and listen to it as the season progresses but… Well, actually, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. Come away with me now to those thrilling days of Christmas Past. See if you can spot yourself and your loved ones in these episodes.

It’s near the end of the first week of December. Christmas is certainly in the air. You’ve had your tree up since the last Saturday in November but you’ve been respectfully keeping things on the down-low as you know there are others who have not yet abandoned themselves to the season. But – come on. One of the most magical things about Christmas is its fleeting nature. Times a-wasting. This calls for Bingo.

By this point, you’ve likely listened to Bing Crosby’s immortal Merry Christmas album and you’ll likely listen to it Christmas morning. But when it comes to Christmas albums, Bing was very giving. 1971’s A Time to Be Jolly finds him in great voice and boasts an excellent title track. “Christmas is Here to Stay” is the album’s closer but is a rousing song of anticipation. “Christmas is on its way. Whenever you see the glow of candles burning bright it’s time to hang the wreath upon the door. The wonderful customs are the reason we long for the season each year and we say ‘Christmas is on its way!'”

By now, you’re starting to notice things. Houses on your street are beginning to hang their lights and your neighbours are even more willing than normal to shoot the breeze. This gives you that feeling, you know the one. You get a similar feeling from Burl Ives and his heartfelt 1965 album Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. His “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” heralds the coming festivities and the feeling that comes with them. “Good will is in the air, you feel it everywhere. Christmas can’t be far away”

There have been countless versions of “Silver Bells”. Pick your favourite and revel in its pleasant imagery again. “Soon it will be Christmas day”. The same can be said about “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”. So many wonderful versions. Both tunes have lovely words that seem suited to the real unrolling of the season. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go…soon the bells will start. Sure, it’s Christmas once more”

Isn’t it funny how, come the end of the year and perhaps against your better judgement, you begin to feel a warmth towards co-workers, people you may have been exasperated with throughout the year. Like with your neighbours, you feel inclined to put pettiness aside and share a kind word or a friendly greeting. And friends you’ve failed to make time for throughout the year come back to your mind and you reach out. All because it’s starting to feel Christmasey.

Perhaps the finest of Brian Wilson’s solo albums is his Christmas record, What I Really Want for Christmas from 2005. The album is loaded with excellent arrangements and sparkling instrumentation. On the mellow track “Christmasey”, Brian wrote the music to Jimmy Webb’s pleasant words. “It’s finally here, it’s that special season. The day is near, you know that’s the reason…we’re feeling so Christmasey. It’s almost time to light up the candles. Now’s the time we’ve waited for. Go let in the neighbors ’cause they’re knockin’ so open the door”.

Like the old Christmas song says, Christmas is for kids and this is readily apparent in many aspects of the season. Of course the most brightly shining symbol of the season that is aimed at children is old Saint Nick himself. The charm of Santa Claus is felt by people of all ages and he has come to shining life in depictions on film and in timeless songs that are still adored by millions. Many feel the same way towards the legendary Gene Autry that they do Santa. Gene was inspired by his experiences riding in Santa Claus Parades to pen “Here Comes Santa Claus”, its celebratory lyrics similar to a child’s glee. “Here comes Santa Claus right down Santa Claus Lane. He’ll come around when the chimes ring out that its Christmastime again. Bells are ringing, children singing, all is merry and bright. So let’s give thanks to the Lord above ’cause Santa Claus comes tonight.”.

Hopefully you have preserved at least some memories by taking home videos. I have some from when my children were little and what a joy it is to see the way Christmas affected them. Wonder. There was real wonder when the decorations first came out late in November. And it was the same as the day grew nearer and the Christmas break from school began. Such warmth in these memories. The wonder, the anticipation. I would remind my kids not to rush it, though. Not to wish it was already here. To enjoy the fact that much of it was still all in front of them and not a minute of it was over yet. But the wonder. And the joy when Christmas was finally nigh at hand. Toronto’s Percy Faith wrote the melody for “Christmas Is”, a song who’s words celebrate many of the things that Christmas means. “Christmas is bedtime when no one wants to go. All the world is tinsel bright. So glad to know that Christmas is tonight”.

1961 Montgomery Ward catalogue. Courtesy Roger Wilkinson Tumblr.

Christmas Eve. The littlest one is flush with excitement and its a joy for a parent to behold. And when they’re finally exhausted and you’re tucking them in to a warm bed after a thrilling day, it may do an adult good to ponder what they have provided this child. There’s a satisfaction to be felt. A contentment that puts much of life in its proper perspective. It took me some time to appreciate “Lullaby for Christmas Eve”, from the wonderful first Christmas record from my man, Jack Jones. But I’ve come to love it especially late at night by the warmth of the tree lights aglow. “You’ll awake Christmas day in a room full of gaily wrapped presents to give and receive. So to bed, little one. Nod your head, little one. While I sing you a lullaby for Christmas Eve”.

Not everyone has children. For whatever the reason, many have never been parents and never will be. The good news is that Christmas contains many joys for these folks, too. I’ve been blessed with two wonderful sons and, when they were young, I wondered if Christmas would be the same when they were older and gone from the house. I’m happy to report that Christmas is still glorious whether there are kids in your everyday life or not. The children may have their lullaby for Christmas Eve but after the kids are tucked in, the adults can exhale, drop on the couch and dig some Hank Ballard expressing similar “tonight’s the night” sentiments in “Santa Claus is Comin'”, a Christmas R&B staple. “Santa Claus is coming, coming by tonight. I’m goin’ t’bed real early, I’m gonna wait and see…”

The Groovy Archives Tumblr

Or maybe you’re still working on it. Hallmark has created close to 200 Christmas movies, most all celebrating the rare form that romance can take when it happens over the holidays. Few Christmas songs are as wistfully romantic as the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas, Darling”. A professor of the Carpenter siblings had some 20 year-old lyrics in need of a melody and a young Richard Carpenter came up with the music in 15 minutes. Whether it is love in bloom or a rocky patch, Christmas can exemplify feelings of longing for and devotion to another. Christmas Eve may find you alone. Or it may find you obligated to be away from the one you love. That is the time for the celestial voice of Karen Carpenter. “Greeting cards have all been sent, the Christmas rush is through…I’ve just one wish on this Christmas Eve; I wish I was with you”.

The romance of the season. It may be a time for family but there can be a special magic in the air when love melds with the glow of fireside and the lights of the tree. Back when Hallmark meant only greeting cards, Robert Goulet’s records were steeped in romance and his first Christmas LP is no exception. Even the cover art is classy and Bob revels in a Christmas spent not with mom and pops but with a special one. “Note this feeling of Christmas eve. All my wishes at last have come true because this Christmas I spend with you”.

I’m intrigued when I see an old movie depict a group of friends spending Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together as opposed to with their families. Take Christmas in Connecticut. Through a series of events, Barbara Stanwyck spends Christmas at a friend’s cabin with her two friends, a stranger and her boss. And yet romance blooms for Stany. When I was a kid, I was always with my parents Christmas Eve. And their parents. It was all about family. That’s partly why it still fascinates me, the idea of stealing away and going off-grid with a paramour for Christmas. Talk about a connection. Whether you stayed together or not, you’d always remember a special day like Christmas spent with a lover. Humperdinck has long sang of romance and he has also sang of Christmas well on two albums. His first, from ’77, contained a candlelit reverie hailing “A Night to Remember”. “As we sail on the glow, of a fire burning low, there’s a lifetime of love in your eyes…this is a night to remember, Christmas Eve”.

Peace. Christmas Eve should be a night of peace. A night to truly appreciate your lot in life. No matter your station, it can be a night to take stock and find yourself blessed. Christmas Eve can be wistful, even a little sad. For the last month, you’ve had many evenings by the tree like this. But tonight is the last night. Tomorrow is the day. Regardless, I feel like if there is any night on the calendar that one has peace waiting there for them to claim it is Christmas Eve. Perhaps everyone else has gone to bed. It’s late and you know you have to be up early but you just can’t end the night yet. This, this is time for Billy Eckstine’s “Christmas Eve”. If any song on this list I would suggest saving to listen to only once throughout the year, this one on the night before Christmas may be the one. After hearing this on that night, you should be able to go to sleep on a bed of true contentment.

“There’s a candle in the window, there’s a legend we believe. Santa hears our plea, you can’t bet that he wouldn’t miss a Christmas eve. In the corner on the table, underneath a shining star, is the holy Christmas stable and three wise men from afar. All this holiday contentment, all this love should never leave. We’d be doing right if we made each night more like Christmas Eve.”

What are your memories of Christmas morning? Did you and your siblings wake up before dawn? Were there rules? Did you have to wait until a certain time to wake your parents? Or did you just charge into their room while it was still dark? Now that my kids are grown, my wife and I are up long before they are. While this seemed odd to us at first, we grew to like it. A quiet morning and a chance to connect with the one you love before the big day begins. Neil Diamond – the “Jewish Elvis” – put out a fine Christmas record featuring great arrangements in 1992 that featured his delightful original “You Make It Feel Like Christmas”, a tale of Christmas romance for older folks. “So wake up the kids, put on some tea. Light up the tree, it’s Christmas day”.

Motorola, 1951. Roger Wilkinson.

It’s Christmas morning. The kids have that look. Bliss. They’ve received many fun small things and a couple amazing larger gifts and now there is wrapping paper and empty boxes strewn everywhere. Mom is cooking breakfast and Dad is finishing his coffee and helping the kids with their new stuff. The sparkle of Paul McCartney’s synthesizers fills the room. “The party’s on, the spirits’ up. We’re here tonight and that’s enough. We’re simply having a wonderful Christmastime”.

Maybe in the afternoon the extended family comes over. A man will hug his dad and in that moment is every Christmas of the past. Some of them wonderful, some less so. The families will talk – sometimes awkwardly, sometimes holding back resentments in honour of the day – and the wonderful exhaustion of a large dinner infects all. With older folks around, classier, more sedate sounds reign. Jack Jones sings again, this time of “Christmas Day”. “Christmas day is here and so are we. Time for children and presents and Christmas tree happiness”.

© Historia/Shutterstock

The dishes are done. The lights are low. Maybe the teenaged boy manages to steal away to see his girl. Frankie Avalon’s Christmas record surprised me twice. When I first got it, I was ready to hear teenaged pop, love songs and light fare. Instead the record was lush, mellow and deadly serious. The second surprise came when I realized I loved it just the way it was. I’ve often imagined parents in some long ago Christmas living rooms reluctantly allowing their kids to add Frankie to the family listening time – and then being delighted by what they were hearing. In “Christmas and You”, Avalon wraps the Yuletide season with a profound thought; memories of Christmas, romantic or otherwise, stay with us throughout the lonely winter. “I’ll remember Christmas and you all through the rest of the year…I’ll remember our walk through the snow and the way we kissed without a sight of mistletoe. I’ll be dreaming and when I do Christmas and you will be here”.

A quick check of the clock reveals a sad truth; Christmas is almost over for another year. But – if it’s gone well – this is also the time when blessings are most acutely felt. As you heave one of the biggest sighs of the whole calendar year, you look inward. Perhaps your faith has been renewed, love has been rekindled and you maybe have made plans to make changes in the new year. Marty Robbins knew the blessings of life. He also knew the challenges. It was particularly at Christmas that he experienced a fresh perspective and acknowledged the Source of his peace in his “A Christmas Prayer”. “Dear Lord, I want to thank you for what you’ve done for me. For all these many blessings. In a world that’s caught in grief and misery, no matter where I wander, I’m always in your sight…if all my prayers aren’t answered then, Lord, I’ll understand. There’s others more deserving, others, Lord, who need a helping hand. I pray you’ll guide and keep me ever near the light. And so my deepest thanks, my Lord upon this Christmas night”.

In the same vein is Elvis Presley’s “On a Snowy Christmas Night”. I often start the season with King and I will often try to hang on to the day by staying up by myself and sitting by the light of the tree. It’s not exactly a sad feeling but it is one of wistful longing. But life would be that much harder if we did not accept and acknowledge how good we have it.

Give thanks for all you’ve been blessed with and hold your loved ones tight. For you know the Lord’s been good to you on a snowy Christmas night”

Through every step of this article, I’ve had a lingering thought that some readers may have an issue connecting with some of the sentiments expressed here. It should be acknowledged that, for many, Christmas can be a challenging time of the year. Family issues and bad memories can be stirred up and among all the frivolity, love and romance, for many who are hurting the season can drive home the point that life is not always fair. I guess all I’m saying is I acknowledge that and – if you are one who is struggling – I’m sorry about that. But be encouraged. Christmas is also a time of year for hope and for reconciliation. Fences can still be mended and it is my belief that any and all can still find redemption through faith in the Child who’s birthday is celebrated this time of year. But even if that is not for you and even if you are single, childless and battling a host of horrific family memories and facing yet another empty holiday season, I encourage you to make the attempt to find the joy that is available at this time of year. Make that choice.

“Christmas is Here to Stay” — Bing Crosby

Courtesy Simon A

“Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” — Burl Ives

Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group

“Silver Bells”

“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas”

“Christmasey” — Brian Wilson

Provided to YouTube by Arista

“Here Comes Santa Claus”

“Christmas Is”

“Lullaby for Christmas Eve” — Jack Jones

Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group

“Santa Claus is Comin'” — Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

“Merry Christmas, Darling” — the Carpenters

“This Christmas I Spend With You” — Robert Goulet

Provided to YouTube by Columbia/Legacy

“A Night to Remember” — Englebert Humperdinck

“Christmas Eve” — Billy Eckstine

Courtesy dvdmanchristmas2

“You Make it Feel Like Christmas” — Neil Diamond

“Wonderful Christmastime” — Paul McCartney

“Christmas Day” — Jack Jones

Provided to YouTube by Rebeat Digital GmbH

“Christmas and You” — Frankie Avalon

“A Christmas Prayer” — Marty Robbins

Provided to YouTube by Legacy Recordings

“On a Snowy Christmas Night” — Elvis Presley

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