Is any time of year as rife with emotion as the Holidays? You’ve got the initial wave of euphoria that comes with the notion that, Hooray! Christmas time is here! It’s time to put on our sweaters, buy a Christmas tree, and eat ourselves into a peppermint bark-induced coma. Then comes the nervousness—the realization that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to work, hit the gym, plan a party, write Christmas cards, AND get all the shopping done. After, or perhaps during this phase, comes the melancholy brought on by winter weather and the deflated feeling of another year gone by. Finally, if we’re lucky, these doldrums are tempered by a few brief moments of joy. Beers shared between old friends, an early morning embrace at the airport, a few heartfelt words delivered in a toast, or perhaps even the sight of a newborn baby. These moments steer us through our fears and uncertainties, and remind us why we care so much about Christmas in the first place.
Unfortunately, the Holidays offer less joy to some than others. Christmas can also bring on a tumultuous series of shake ups, break ups, and wake ups brought on, perhaps, by the realization that when stripped of the blinders offered by work schedules and daily routines, our relationships aren’t as strong we’d hoped.
In essence, the holiday season serves as a highlight reel for an entire year’s ups and downs. Since a highlight reel is only as good as its soundtrack, I decided to take a stab at a holiday season playlist. This isn’t just a list of Christmas music, though I do have a soft spot for both classic and unconventional holiday songs. Instead, I’ve come up with a list of songs that I think express the gamut of emotions associated with the year’s end.
Pull My Heart Away – Jack Penate
This is a good song about the harsh reality of moving on from an unfulfilling environment. It’s one of the tougher themes of the holiday season, but I think it bares mentioning.
All That I Want – The Weepies
I don’t know if there’s a harmony more soothing than that of the Weepies’ Deb Talan and Steve Tannen. “All that I want” articulates the paradoxical mix of contentment and longing felt at Christmastime.
Christmas Lights – Coldplay
Coldplay’s music has always possessed the ability to throw the listener from the shores of quiet sadness into raging sea of feeling, and back again, so a Christmas song is a perfect fit. It’s also a perfect opportunity for the band to make an easy buck. I took the bait.
New City – Chip Means
This one may seem appropriate to me, since moving to a new city was probably the most significant development of 2010. With the move came excitement and refreshment, but also pangs of loneliness.
Sister Winter – Sufjan Stevens
Stevens has a stellar voice, and this song in particular brings into focus the steely numbness of winter.
River – Herbie Hancock feat. Corrine Bailey Rae
While Joni Mitchell deserves a huge amount of credit for writing the lyrics, I can’t help but prefer this jazz rendition. Perhaps more than any other song on this list, this track encapsulates the despondent reaction that we tend to feel when the Christmas season prods us to be merry.
What Christmas Means to Me – Stevie Wonder
No, I don’t just listen to sad music during the holidays. Personally, I kind of enjoy the reflections – happy and sad—granted by the arrival of winter. Few songs put me in a better mood than one of music’s all-time greatest vocalists.
Christmas – Rogue Wave
What an awesome song to remind us what Christmas is all about. How is it that we all have a knack for completely losing sight of the real meaning of Christmas over the course of each year. What in the world would we do if the Christmas season didn’t exist? Would we all just become so self-absorbed that we’d implode? How is it that Charles Schultz explained this whole holiday conundrum with a bunch of cartoon characters? Christmastime sure brings up a lot of questions. Sheeesh. Speaking of which…
Linus & Lucy – Vince Guaraldi Trio (Charlie Brown Christmas)
Take it away, Schroeder…
Christmas Song – Dave Matthews Band
Another song about the true meaning of Christmas (and every song written by the Beatles before drugs): Love, Love, Love.
It Don’t Have to Change – John Legend
I think Christmas also has a knack for reminding us how we’ve grown from the days when we believed in Santa Claus, and in our own imaginations. As kids, there was no stress or obligation associated with the holidays. We only had to worry about making sure we remembered to leave carrots for Santa’s reindeer, avoided the relatives with foul-smelling perfume, and didn’t wake up mom and dad before 5:00am. This song is especially beautiful for capturing the joy of family that persists through the years.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – John Denver and the Muppets
I can only defend the inclusion of this song by saying that I have fond childhood memories of listening to this tape (remember cassette tapes?) over and over with my Mom. If you’ve ever wondered what a duet between John Denver and Rowlf the Dog would sound like, this song’s got an answer for you: pretty awful.
Get There – Robert Randolph & The Family Band
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the craziness of traveling home for the holidays. Flying or driving long distances in inclement winter weather can be exciting, at times challenging, and occasionally absurdly aggravating. Still, the prospect of being home is worth all of it. No matter how it gets done, you’ve got to get there.
White Christmas – Otis Redding
There are a thousand great renditions of this classic, but I’m not sure that any is as soulful. I also love this song because, I once briefly convinced Kim that Otis was oddly singing the word “mayonnaise” in his rendition of the song (rather than “May your days”). I’m probably not in store for a white Christmas this year since I’m traveling up to Vancouver, BC, the probably the only place in Canada not blanketed in snow. Still, I think Otis’s voice will set the tone for a warm and joyous reunion of three generations of Kosas in a brand new home.
That’s it from me. What favorite songs are on your Christmas playlist?
By the way, it took me a while, but this is my 5oth blog post. Thanks to all of you who take the time to read my musings and ramblings! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!