Thanks to Sweetpea, I’m now reflecting on the Christmas traditions that make me smile.
1. Favorite Christmas cartoon: A Charlie Brown Christmas is my hands-down favorite. First of all, it’s the Peanuts gang, before they became all soft and PC. Secondly, the soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio is great jazz music that happens to be Christmas-themed (but isn’t limited to the season – “Linus & Lucy,” “Christmas Is Coming” and “Skating” are top-notch jazz tunes at any time). And thirdly, there’s the dancing. Anybody who has ever seen me dance will swear that I learned all of my moves from the dance scenes in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
2. Favorite Christmas movie: Hmmm – a tough one. A Christmas Story is right up there, for sure, as is Miracle on 34th Street (the original version). But for me, I think that Love, Actually takes the cake right now. Sure, it’s sappy, but it’s also a great story of giving and generosity – and isn’t that the spirit of Christmas?
(And before anybody quips here: I’m an atheist, and to me, the Bible is simply a remarkable work of literature. So the story of baby Jesus and the wise men is, to me, a great parable – and that’s what I use to derive my “Christmas spirit” definition.)
3. Favorite Christmas song (traditional): “Stille Nacht” – the original “Silent Night” – is my favorite. And I like it performed as simply as it was originally performed: two voices, one guitar. I think a lot of this ties into my love of the Austrian Alps, where the song was composed. I feel a great amount of grounding over there, and want to go back during holiday season in the near future.
In general, though, I love old Christmas carols. This dates back to my days in a private, Episcopal school that held a “Candle & Carol” celebration each Christmas. Held in the local Episcopal cathedral, it featured readings in candlelight, and lots of carols. My friend Dan and I would have fun singing the harmony parts to the carols, using it as a fun challenge (the music we’d have would often just have the melody transcribed). And I performed in the bell choir during C&C my senior year of high school – totally fun.
4. Favorite Christmas song (pop/modern): This is a toss-up. Like Sweetpea, I have a great affection for “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid. I remember its arrival, and the U.S. response (“We Are The World,” a far weaker song), and still look forward to its performance.
That said, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono is my absolute favorite of the modern Christmas songs. The tune is simple, yet effective, with lovely background harmony. The production by Phil Spector is majestic, and the message is inspiring. Opening with the whispered “Happy Christmas, Kyoko – Happy Christmas, Julian,” it launches into a wish for peace, both personally and globally. It was John singing from the heart.
5. Favorite Christmas cookie: Ummm…. pass? I can’t think of a really Christmas-oriented cookie, as there wasn’t one in my family as I was growing up. I do like sprite’s spritz cookies, though (but in moderation – they’ll add a lot to your frame if you indulge too much).
6. Favorite family tradition: Embracing the cultural heritage of both my dad and mom, we celebrated St. Nicholas’ Day every December 6th (my dad is Dutch), and Orthodox Christmas on January 6 (now the 7th, strictly speaking, as the Julian calendar has advanced a day ahead of the common modern calendar – most folks in other Christian traditions would call it Epiphany, the day when the three wise men arrived at Jesus’ side). On St. Nick’s Day, my shoes would be filled with candy and an occasional toy. On Orthodox Christmas, we’d exchange additional presents (usually taking advantage of post-holiday sales to find the stuff that was too hard to get, otherwise).
And I still embrace these traditions with sprite.