The overly optimistic idealist in me always loves to pop out every December.
I'm not entirely sure why but I'm thinking it's because of the imagery of the month where families come together and how the juxtaposition of the cold weather and the warm holiday feelings or because I'm able to get away with it. Trying to be optimistic and idealist any other month of the year will end up getting you labeled as having Pollyanna Syndrome and not being taken seriously. I hate when that happens...well the not being taken seriously part. I'm fine with people thinking I have Pollyanna Syndrome.
Last year, I began to think about doing something altruistic. Something grand and big. Unfortunately, other than donating some stuffed animals I won in a crane game to Toys for Tots, I didn't really have the means of doing so. My issue was that I was thinking too big. This time, I'm going to do something more small...but for a longer period of time.
So that's what I came up with my personal December Challenge, which is known as Operation: Be A Good Person. A simple and to the point name for something I've been trying to start up doing, which I actually did start up today.
The challenge I've put upon myself is that I'm going to do one nice altruistic thing every day of the month. 31 days of good deeds that can be just about anything. Just today, I gave cookies from work (I bought them, don't worry!) to some of the folks over at Dunkin Donuts who are in the same building complex. A small deed, but hey it's a start. I'm also thinking of other things like paying for the person behind me in the Drive-Thru, getting gloves and hats for folks who are in the cold, and other such things.
Why? Because I just want to spread some good cheer. So if you happen to be one of those folks who suddenly has their morning coffee paid for them for no reason, then perhaps you have been a victim of my challenge. Or at least someone else with the same idea as myself. I just hope nobody orders the whole store. I mean, I only have so much on my bank account.
Anyways, onwards to the second part of this article, which is kind of piggybacking off my Holiday Pet Peeves article in which I mentioned a few holiday songs I really like or I don't think entirely suck.
1) "Auld Lang Syne"-Traditional An old Scottish folk song that was repurposed from a poem in 1711 by Robert Burns, this song has been a New Year's Eve staple for years. The version that I linked to, which is by Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo, is the most popular version. He and his Royal Canadians hosted a New Year's Eve party in New York City between the years 1929 and 1959 was heard and then seen from coast to coast and it popularized the tradition of this song being the first song heard. This is a song about friends from the past that have been long since forgotten in the sands of time, but still fondly remembered at the same time. Everytime I hear this song, I think of the friends I've had that I haven't seen in a while or heard from in a while, hope they're doing well, and hoist up my bottle of soda in honor of them. They may not be around these days, but they were there for me in times past and I can't ever forget that. A great way to begin the new year and remembering the old.
2) "Do You Hear What I Hear?"-Bing Crosby I used to play this song a lot when I was in band. Somehow the subpar instrumental version of this song as played by us didn't tarnish my opinion of the song. At first, I actually didn't really have much of an opinion about this song. Then, I read the backstory about it and now it's a song that I really like. First off, this song is a lot newer than everybody thinks. When I was younger, I thought this was some old traditional religious song as done by some old people I never knew. How wrong was I. This song was actually written in 1962 by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne, a husband and wife songwriting team. The song isn't religious in nature, actually. It uses a lot of religious imagery but the truth of the song is that it's written as a plea for peace in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. No, seriously. The song makes a ton of sense when you think about it that way. The game of telephone seems to reflect the imagery of word going around, the imagery that seemed like it was innocent at first is actually a lot more disturbing (like the star dancing in the night...that's a missile...or the song? That's a bomb going off) but yet, there's something so profound about the entire thing. There's other versions of this song, but I'm going with the Bing Crosby version because I like his voice and the authoritative tone of it. It fits well with the message and everything.
3) "Christmastime for the Jews"-Darlene Love This was an SNL sketch that aired in 2005 that seems to have escaped the memories of most people. Then again, SNL was in one of their "not funny" funks at the time so it's understandable. This song is a bit of a love letter to the Phil Spector Christmas album in which they talk about how Jewish folks celebrate Christmas. In my opinion, this blows "The Hanukkah Song"-Adam Sander out of the water in every aspect from the comedy to the presentation to the vocal styling. And it's a pitch perfect tribute to the Wall of Sound awesomeness, even if Phil Spector is far from the greatest human being ever. I just really want to see this one get more recognition.
4) "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"-Darlene Love Yes, she's on here twice. If you don't know who she is, then shame on you. She's a legendary singer who is most famous for being the lead singer of the Crystals, who were famous for such songs as "And Then He Kissed Me" and "He's a Rebel". While they were in the shadow of the Ronettes and their legendary song "Be My Baby", I still attest that Darlene was the better singer, though not by much. You may also know her as Murtaugh's wife in the Lethal Weapon movies. Every year, Love appears on the last episode before Christmas of The Late Show with David Letterman and performs this song. She has been doing this since 1986 when Letterman was on NBC. The song in itself is amazing thanks to the powerhouse vocals of Love and the longing and desire of her voice as she's singing. It's great. Just fantastic.
5) "Nutty"-The Ventures First off, ANY Boston Bruins fan knows this song. Hell I'm sure within the first few moments of hearing this song, you'd be having visions of Bobby Orr dancing in your head rather than the sugar plums of most normal folks. This surf-rock take on the most recognizable part of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" is full of life and always puts me into the Christmas Spirit. I wish I could find more to say about this, but there really isn't that much about it that I can really say other than I really like this song. And while I love "Waltz of the Flowers" more in terms of parts of the Nutcracker Suite, "Nutty" is still my favorite to listen to at Christmastime.
6) Any Level Music From Snow Land in Kirby's Epic Yarn This is an unconventional choice for two reasons. The first reason is that it's a collection of songs that I couldn't decide on just one. The second is the fact that it's from a video game, and a rather current one at that. However, the compositions of Tomoya Tomita in this particular work nail the various holiday feelings without being too over the top. There's the heartwarming feeling of Cozy Cabin, the fanfare of joy in Snowy Fields, the feeling of flying in Santa's sleigh in Mount Slide, and the feeling of quietly contemplating on life as you watch the snowflakes fall with Frosty Wheel. There are two other levels, but the songs for those levels are the same as the others. Each song brings in the perfect emotion not only for the level but for the holiday as well. I love bringing up these songs whenever I am looking for a way to get into the Christmas spirit.
7) "Somewhere in my Memory"-John Williams I will forever argue about how Home Alone is one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. Maybe it's my nostalgia goggles, but it's an amazing movie that seems to be scoffed upon by most who just see it for the idea of Kevin pranking the theives. It's a great film and I've always loved the lengths that his mother went to to make sure she is reunited with Kevin come Christmastime. Granted, this would almost never happen these days thanks to the magic of cell phones, it's still a great movie for the Christmas season. John Williams, legendary composer who has composed so many flat out amazing movies, really nails it in Home Alone, this song being the crowning achievement. God, when this plays when Kevin and his mother are reunited never fails to get me a little bit verklempt.
8) "Walking in the Air"-Peter Auty This song comes from the short animated film The Snowman. The Snowman is actually a big British Christmas tradition. Not many people I know are familiar with it, but we got a VHS of it one Christmas and we used to watch it every year. Our version had a beginning narration from the one and only David Bowie. This film is beautifully animated and contains no dialogue save for this song as the young boy and the Snowman are flying through the sky on Christmas Eve. This song gets me super verklempt and I find it hard to listen to the song with anybody around me. Even if you've never seen the short film, you may have heard of this song before. The symphonic Finnish metal band Nightwish does a cover of this that is very pretty and also makes me (at least) rethink metal bands.
9) "All I Want for Christmas Is You"-Mariah Carey Okay, this is a guilty pleasure song. I should hate everything about this song, but at the same time, I just can't bring myself to hate it. It's so happy and peppy and I always find myself singing it in the car on my way to work or wherever else I may be going. It's so embarassing, but yet, I can't help it. It's also got a really good Wall of Sound feel to it which is always a plus.
10) "Merry Christmas Baby"-Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Penned in 1947 and originally performed by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, this soulful ditty was made famous by a number of people including the late great Otis Redding, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley. However, it's Springsteen's version that was released in 1987 that is my favorite. Actually, it's his performance of the song during the Christmas episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien in 2002. The horns from the Max Weinberg 7 combined with Conan on rhythm guitar and the showmanship of Springsteen cements this as a favorite of mine. It's just so electric.
Honorable Mentions go to "O Holy Night," to which I couldn't find the perfect version to link to, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which also doesn't suck but I wanted to limit the list to 10, and "Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg, which is debatable on whether or not it's an actual Christmas song.
So there you have it folks. My list of 10 holiday songs (well a little over 10) that don't suck and my December mission. May you all keep having fantastic holiday seasons and may your days be merry and bright, as the great Bing Crosby once crooned.
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