My dad is a self-proclaimed snob about music, which means that I was exposed to some really great music and educated really well about that music. It also means that I didn’t hear a contemporary pop song unless my sister played on. The radio was NOT an option in our car. So this is my holiday playlist, and there’s a story for each song. Disclaimer: these are all affiliate links from Amazon, because that was the easiest way to get the pictures and link you to clips of the songs without thinking about copyright issues.
Classy: George Winston, “The Holly & The Ivy,” December
My sister’s name is Holli, with an i. When I was little, people used to sing “The Holly and the Annie” instead of the “Ivy” and I would get mad. First: the movie Annie terrified me, because of the part where they almost KILL the child while she’s climbing that tower thing. I did not want to be called Annie. Second: The lyrics go like this, “The holly and the ivy, when they are both full-grown, of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly wears the crown.” She was already the older sister. Now, they were telling me that, even when I was big, too, she would get the crown? Not. Cool.
Then, I grew up, and I grew a sense of humor. I also sang this song in choir and still know all the verses. The words are really awesome, explain the symbolism of the holly plant and why it’s associate with Christmas, and it totally bridges the pagan and the Christian imagery that got thrown into Christmas. George Winston is an incredible piano player, so this is the instrumental version. I prefer to sing the words myself. :)
Classic, for singing: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
My dad used to play this on the piano, and sing it. He’s an awesome musician. He was so good at the saxophone, that he got to be in the Army Band instead of going to Vietnam, during the war. (Military bands are incredible. Amazing. Really freaking talented.) He could play every instrument, and he was in a band with all six of his brothers for most of his 20s. We also listened to this song, often, but I can’t remember whose version. I want to guess Natalie Cole sang it. But here’s a version I listening to:
Classic, for listening: “The Christmas Song,” Nat “King” Cole and Natalie Cole, The Magic of Christmas
There was one dad and two daughters in our family (and a mom, who was often excluded from musical activities, which I now find obnoxious–that’s another story) so I liked the duet. This song is great. These singers are amazing. The London Symphony Orchestra is playing the music behind them. Get it.
Pop: “All I Want For Christmas,” Mariah or that little girl from Love Actually (her name is Olivia Olson)
Mariah made it famous, and she’s behind the story of why this song is on my short list for the holidays. My dad is actually a Mariah Carey fan, in the sense that he thinks she’s an amazing singer, and I was allowed to have her CDs. All. Of. Them. I inherited the collection my sister started during high school and built from there. I love classic Mariah. I love Mariah + JayZ. I love Mariah. My friend Jessica and I used to listen to her CDs on our headphones (DISCMAN!) and skate around the ice rink by her house singing outloud. It was epic.
My dad remarried in 2003, right before I went to college, and moved in with her, so I spent that Christmas at their house. When he got out of the car to get our Christmas tree at the farm (real farm–part of it grew trees–rural Minnesota, people) my stepmother popped in Mariah’s Christmas album, and we rocked out to “All I Want for Christmas.” She told me a really cute story about her, love in her young life, before I met her, and singing this song. When it was over, she put in my dad’s music again, and we giggled hysterically. Evidently, he’s not a fan of her pop Christmas albums. The car, when he was not in it, was where she enjoyed them. That was a fun day.
I went to see Love Actually with my college BFFs, so that version makes me feel so cozy. I have a pretty great memory of my friend Ellen singing this song along with the soundtrack at the top of her lungs with a pretend microphone in her hand, in the hallway of our dorm. That was fun, too.
Christmas Movie song: “White Christmas,” sung by Bing Crosby in the film White Christmas
Holiday Inn doesn’t cut it, folks. White Christmas has Rosemary Clooney, and she’s just a better a singer than that Holiday Inn actress, who is totally forgettable. Also: I didn’t see Holiday Inn until I was 16. I watched White Christmas every year, because we mysteriously owned a VHS copy. This is mysterious, because neither of my parents actually likes this movie. But I found it and watched it over and over. I’m the kind of person who listens to a song on repeat–the same song–for an hour, because I just happen to love it at that moment. I’m also the kind of person who watched White Christmas, reached the end, turned off the VCR, discovered that it was on TV, and watched it from the middle to the end, again. Right away. I like almost every version of this song I’ve ever heard–it’s a great song. But Bing is my love. And when I found out that no one else in my family shared my passion for the film, that kind of just made my tradition better. It was mine and only mine. Now, where did I put that DVD…
Non-Christmas Holiday song: “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” preferably when Ella Fitzgerald is singing
I discovered this song as an adult, when Nathan and I were already together. We moved in together on New Year’s Day, so I used to sing this song to him. We got our keys before the holiday, so we knew that we’d be spending New Years Eve drinking sparkling cider and eating Chinese on the floor of our new place. This song makes me all mushy inside. I have a version Diana Krall recorded, too, and it’s great. Get to know this one. You can sing it after December 25th, after all!