People who think they know me are often surprised to discover that I like Christmas music. They are shocked to learn that I have nearly 200 albums. This, of course, is a paltry collection — Manny Jules, former chief of the Kamloops First Nation once told me he had 900. My mind boggled and my secret Santa got jealous.
How can someone who is not only an atheist but a secular empiricist, who demands that nothing— whether in science or politics — should be taken without proof, like Christmas music so much? It’s not for the mystical qualities. I’m not in the least connected to anything that can’t be measured; people who have called me spiritual may recall the blank bemused stare I gave them and my remark of: You’re projecting your own insecurities.
Yet I do like Christmas music. I find it entertaining, often moving, sometimes amusing, And fun to hum along with. Though what I call Christmas music might not pass muster with those whose experience is limited to Church choirs and shopping malls.
One of my favorites of all time is from rocker, Melissa Etheridge whose riff on O Holy Night is truly divine. It manages to merge pure secular values of optimism and action with both pagan and Christian themes of the solstice/Christmas season.
Then there is Little Drummer Boy — one of the most often performed but frequently most annoying of all songs of the season. It shot up my list as a seasonal favorite because my friend, George Roseme, who walked into the woods and died about seven years ago, hated it so much. He would moan and cover his ears when it played and curse the musician for performing it. So, now, whenever I hear it, I think of George. It is one of the bittersweet memories of Christmas for me.
There are some strange ones too. Every one points to the Pogues, “Christmas in New York” as particularly disturbing but it has nothing on Henry Rollin’s recital of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Some music is so bad it holds a weird fascination. All of Bob Dylan’s Christmas album is strange, some of it horrifying and it is hard to know if he is being sincere or sinister. Then there is the Jethro Tull Christmas. The less said about that, the better. And I certainly have my limits when it comes to rank sentimentality: I can’t listen all the way through to “The Cat Carol.”
I also love the ethereal beauty of the classics when they performed with delicacy and grace. Libera, the international boys’ choir, is particularly good at that but I’d also recommend Katherine Jenkins and the Canadian Measha Brueggergosman.
But one of my favorite songs is the little known ‘Boy from the Woods.‘ For me it captures the purest secular values of kindness, charity and altruism and the philosophy of ‘pass it on.’ Yet, if you want, you can accept it as a religious song, too. The writing is so clever that either interpretation works and is emotionally satisfying.
But that’s ten minutes. (Merry Christmas)