Christmas was a big deal in my family. My step-father would go in the nearby forest and cut a tree. Tchac! Just like that! My sister and I would help him haul it in the house, set it up straight and strong into one of those little flimsy device you can never set the Christmas tree straight and strong into. Then my mum would have those boxes of decorations appear out of nowhere, garlands, ornaments, electrical strings that never worked (“It’s because one of them lightbulb is broken!” “NO, I just checked, they all work!”) and we would decorate the Christmas tree. Ha! You ask, but what does it have to do with music?
In my case? Not much.
My family had a dingy little cassette player and no Christmas music. Not even “Petit Papa Noel”. You don’t know “Petit Papa Noel”? No worries, you can find it on YouTube. It’s the ultimate French Carol.
As far as I was concerned, during my whole youth, Christmas music, Christmas Carols and the likes were not on my radar. We would celebrate Christmas in a wonderful way, we would burn three whole trees in the fireplace (We were dirt poor, but our house had a huge fireplace, go figure.), we would have a special meal, usually with oysters and some kind of Foie Gras (Yes, that controversial food, that wasn’t controversial at the time.), we would exchange wonderful gifts and light jokes, and we would have an absolutely delightful time, but music was not in the card. We would put on some kind of soothing classical music, and it made the snow outside the windows glistened just fine, thank you (We lived in the mountains, we had snow for Christmas… and mud for March).
But then I came to the US of A. Oh, my! Music here was not considered noise. It was something respected, honored, revered. There was special music for EVERYTHING! There was some for marriages. Fine! we got those in France. There was music for birthdays. Ditto! And New Year’s Eve! Ah, no, we don’t have in France. At the stroke of midnight, the whole population doesn’t stop what they’re doing (usually drinking) to welcome the new Year with a song. No, we exchange wishes and keep on drinking, this way, no time’s-a-wasted. Here, in the New World, the whole country belts out Auld Land Syne, a Beautiful song with a dangerous spelling. When I tell my French comrades, that the 5 time zones can be heard one after the other on the continent, soon followed by a sixth in Hawaii, they have a hard time believing it.
But that’s not all! I discovered that this here country has a lot of Christmas songs. A LOT! (Sorry for the capital letters, I didn’t mean to scream in your face). Almost every big artist from Nat King Cole to Michael Bubble has made a Christmas album. And those songs are gorgeous. Of course, there is the religious repertoire like “Silent night” or “Away in a manger”, but the traditional English carols has produced gems like “Deck the Hall”. As for Jazz, who can forget “Have yourself a Merry LIttle Christmas” or “Santa Baby”? Then we have the classics of all Classics, the songs that transcend time and singer: “White Christmas”, ” All I want for Christmas is you”, “Baby, it’s cold outside”. All of Norman Rockwell is contained in those. And every body seem to get into a frenzy together. You have radios here in Chicago that play only Christmas music starting the day after Thanksgiving. My American family and I would not conceive of decorating the tree without some Christmas music in the background. And, yes, the snow, if we happen to have some here during this time of the year, yes, the snow glows and glisten when “Frosty the snowman” is among us. Music is one of the many reason I call this country home!
Merry Christmas, every one!