December 18, 2008
Confessions of a Christmas carol addict
And as anyone driving in the car next to mine these past few weeks can attest, I know the lyrics to nearly every Christmas carol and sing along to them with yuletide abandon (though I tend to mumble over the "Christ the savior" parts)! Am I the only one, or is this something that happens after too many Christmases in Los Angeles, stuck in traffic with the car radio tuned to KOST-FM 103.5, a station that plays nonstop Christmas music from Thanksgiving to Christmas?
No, my love of Christmas carols began many years ago. In fact, I've traced its genesis to a young girl's crush on the eternally handsome and vocally gifted Andy Williams and his yearly TV holiday specials. He had it all -- the perfect hair, the velvety voice, the sweaters (the pretty French wife who subsequently shot that skier). And no one sang "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" like he did. My parents also had an album of Christmas classics featuring Williams, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, etc., and every December I listened to that record over and over.
And now I can't stop listening. It's not that I have Christmas envy -- I don't celebrate Christmas, and I love, honor and embrace Jewish holiday traditions -- but there's just something about those Christmas carols that gets to me. And my addiction has gotten worse -- I've moved from listening in the car, to listening at home. Yes, Virginia, I've been secretly buying Christmas CDs.
A few years ago, when James Taylor came out with a holiday CD sold only at Hallmark stores, I spent hours on the phone trying in vain to find the sold-out disc, which I eventually had to buy on eBay. But it was worth it -- what's better than JT's soothing voice singing "Winter Wonderland"? Maybe only Sweet Baby James singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on his follow-up Christmas album. Or what about Amy Grant's heartbreaking "Oh, Holy Night," The Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan's folk/rock spin on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," Whitney Houston belting out "Do You Hear What I Hear?" Or Stevie Nick's amazingly beautiful "Silent Night" (from one of the excellent "Very Special Christmas" CDs that benefit the Special Olympics)?
Now, with iTunes, I don't even have to buy a CD. I can just purchase my favorite songs -- classics by crooners like Frank Sinatra's jazzy "Jingle Bells," Johnny Mathis' "The Christmas Song" or Nat King Cole's "The First Noel." And nobody swings "Silver Bells" better than Tony Bennett. The re-mixed Dean Martin/Martina McBride duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" has become a favorite, and Stevie Wonders' "Someday at Christmas" just plain rocks.
Many of the season's most beloved songs were composed by Jews -- "White Christmas" (Irving Berlin), "The Christmas Song" (Mel Torme), "We Need a Little Christmas" (Jerry Herman), "Rudolph" and "Holly, Jolly Christmas" (Johnny Marks), "Let it Snow" (Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne) and many others. And I have to admit that the cumulative song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," always reminded me of "Chad Gadya" -- but with partridges in pear trees, leaping lords and milking maids instead of goats bought for two zuzim and dogs beaten by sticks.
And yes, I know there are Chanukah songs ... seven to be exact. Peter, Paul & Mary's "Light One Candle" is good and Craig Taubman does a rousing "Mi Yimalel." But it's really only "Maoz Tzur (Rock of Ages)" that has that sweeping, soul-stirring melody (which it turns out is an adaptation of a German folksong). Taubman does a beautiful version of it as does Marc Cohn -- perhaps their own version of a Chanukah carol. But truthfully, I don't really want Jewish songs to sound like Christmas carols any more than I want kugel to taste like fruitcake.
The other day, as I, a nice Jewish girl, left Nate 'n Al, a nice Jewish deli, after a meal there with my friend who I've known since summers at Camp Tel Yehudah, it was not the Christmas decorations that made me smile, or the shoppers rushing to and fro, but a particularly fabulous and fairly recent Beverly Hills holiday tradition -- palm trees, trunks wrapped with lights, now sport speakers that blare holiday music. And as I walked along, I sang along. And for once, the absurdity and incongruity of life in Los Angeles seemed downright tailor-made for me. If the palm trees can sing Christmas carols, then so can I! "Fa la la la la la la la la."