By Rick Hiduk
In December of 1966, I was just four years and three months old when my father took me to the SCI (now the YMCA) in Towanda to see Santa Claus, who was seated under the basketball hoop at the far end of the gymnasium. Gene Autry’s Christmas album was playing over the sound system. I was familiar with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” of course because of the television program. Two other Gene Autry songs played that day were stuck in the deep recesses of my memory until I came across them years later on a CD – “When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter” and “Everyone’s a Child at Christmas.” Hearing them again brought a little color back to what was otherwise a black and white memory.
Almost everybody who celebrates Christmas recalls the moment when he or she made the connection between Christmas music and the holiday itself. Even children start to realize that we dust off those old chestnuts for approximately one month per year and hopefully add some new favorites to an expanding repertoire of holiday hits.
“Love to listen to it. Love to sing it,” noted Lisa, an elementary school teacher from Bradford County, PA, who related that her earliest memory of holiday music was when her mother played “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” which Perry Como first made popular in 1952.
Music certainly adds to the emotions associated with Christmas – happy, sad, humbled, or annoyed. That’s what prompted me to wonder how others perceived Christmas music and how it came into their lives. Thanks to everybody who participated in the Christmas Music Survey posted recently at EndlessMtnLifestyles.com.
While by no means scientific, I garnered a wide variety of opinions as to when and where the playing of holiday music is most fitting. Likewise, all-time favorites ranged from hymns and traditional carols to rocking renditions of songs both old and new. I’m glad that I withheld my views on holiday music until all of the responses were in, as no two people felt the same about any aspect of the survey, and I learned a lot.
More often than not, respondents, who ranged in age from their 20s to 70s, agreed that the most appropriate place to hear Christmas music was at a gathering of friends or family. Most agreed that holiday music was appreciable from Thanksgiving through Christmas itself.
There were a few zealots who were ready to hear holiday tunes in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. “November first is way too soon,” suggested Jane, a 29-year-old fundraising and events officer from Bradford County, PA. “I think the second or third week of November is perfect.” Jane tunes into the holiday channel on Sirius XM every time she gets in the car, which, she admitted, drives her husband crazy. “I like it in stores and even at dinner.”
Emily, a graphic designer from Lancaster County, PA, prefers mostly pop Christmas tunes after Thanksgiving. “But not 24/7. Just a song here or there, unless I’m at a Christmas party or decorating the tree,” she remarked. Emily also feels that the playing of Christmas music should end with the holiday itself. “I get sick of it.”
Nikki, an advertising and marketing specialist in Wyoming County, PA, disagrees, stating “I wish that (radio) stations didn’t go cold turkey the evening of December 25,” in reference to the tradition of radio programmers to revert to regular programming at 6 or 9 p.m. on Christmas night. “Christmas is a week long celebration,” Nikki asserted.
“It’s still the holiday season,” Cathy, an elementary school teacher from Lancaster County agreed.
The fact is that Christmas is celebrated on different dates and for different periods of time depending on each family’s holiday culture. My grandfather, John Hiduk, was a Russian-Orthodox Catholic. Therefore, we gathered for our Hiduk (Hajduk) Christmas celebration as close to January 7 as possible, which was quite a bonus for us kids. The “12 Days of Christmas” are those days that fall between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7. In the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area, it is actually considered rude to take down your holiday decorations before Russian Christmas is over. (Lazy people love it.)
Nonetheless, with Grandpa now only a cherished memory and no Orthodox Catholics remaining in our immediate family, most of us try to wrap up the holiday on Dec. 25. My sister, Lisa, an operations manager in Luzerne County, doesn’t mind hearing Christmas music “as soon as it gets cold,” but noted, “I don’t like to hear it after Christmas Day.”
“Christmas is enough,” Gail from Wyoming County agreed.
“Too much of a good thing will bore me,” said Joe, a project coordinator from Bradford County. “I’ll likely change the radio station.”
The Christmas to New Year’s Eve stretch was a gray zone to most of the respondents. Tari, a financial consultant from Wyoming County, wants to hear Christmas music at home on Dec. 25, but is ready to disconnect from holiday tunes by Christmas night, noting that “it’s really overplayed” by then.
Mark, a hotel concierge in Los Angeles County, CA, conceded that some Christmas music is OK in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, but “Then, I want to hear ‘Auld Lang Syne.’” Jane, on the other hand, wraps the perennial New Year’s Eve ode made popular by band leader Guy Lombardo into her list of all time Christmas favorites (even though Kenny G’s version makes her cry), indicating once again that it’s all a matter of perspective.
Jane’s earliest memories of Christmas music are associated with the airing of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on television when she was a child. A little more than two decades her senior, Mark recalls taking note of Christmas music when he heard a “stirring rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which remains one of his favorites.
Others realized that Christmas songs stood apart from other music when they performed them in holiday pageants in church or school. This was, of course, back when you could still say “Christmas” in public schools. The notion that the separation of church and state somehow nullifies that practice boggles my mind. Most Americans celebrate Christmas whether they are practicing Christians or not.
Frederick, a hotel concierge from New York, New York had to learn “The 12 Days of Christmas” as a kindergarten student in Lancaster County in 1966, “trying to memorize and keep up with everybody else. I went home frustrated and rehearsed it with my mother.”
Cathy recalled that the first solo she sang in church was a part of “Greensleeves (What Child is This?)”
In Joe’s family, religion dominated the holiday playlist. “As a child, my family listened to meaningful music celebrating the real meaning of Christmas – the birth of our savior,” he related.
Nikki remembered singing “Away in a Manger” in Sunday school and still regards it as one of her favorites, along with a number of other carols and hymns. Ironically, she stacked several rockers at the front of her survey response, including Bob Seger’s rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” and Billy Squire’s “Christmas is the Time to Say I love You.” Niiki’s full list actually included two of the overall survey favorites.
“Silent Night” won the poll hands down, which surprised me. I do like the song, especially on Christmas Eve. The only version that I never liked was that by Stevie Nicks, which Nikki selected as her favorite. “The Little Drummer Boy,” in its many incarnations, was the number two song. While some believe that it is much older, it was really a new pop hit in 1958 by the Harry Simeone Chorale that charted for the next four years and has obviously stood the test of time. In addition to the version by Bob Seger, the famous pairing of David Bowie and Bing Crosby on “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” was cited by Nikki as noteworthy, while my sister, Lisa, specifically panned it – maybe because I played the 45 too many times when we were growing up.
Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” received a number of mentions, with several respondents noting that the two movies that featured the two-time number one hit – “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” – as their favorite Christmas flicks.
The original version of “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt won out over Madonna’s rendition.
Many feelings about Christmas music were influenced by what each respondent’s family played when he or she was a child. Christmas albums by the top recording artists of the day were as common and popular as they are now. Some of those mentioned included LPs by Barbara Streisand, Perry Como, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Kenny G, and Vanessa Williams. Two electrified orchestras – the Trans-Siberian and Mannheim Steamroller – also received well-deserved nods of affection.
Truth be told, I did not receive as many responses as I’d hoped, so there were some serious omissions that I’m sure would have been fulfilled had another 30 people responded. Nobody mentioned Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time,” nor “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses, a girl punk band known initially for “I Know What Boys Like.” On the traditional side, I was bummed that nobody likes the “Coventry Carol” nor “The Carol of the Bells” as much as I do.
For the umpteenth year in a row, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by Elmo and Patsy is still irking the most people, followed by (in the EML survey) “Dominick the Donkey” and “The Chipmunk Song.” Mark simply requested that he not have to hear another Christmas song by Celine Dion. Other songs loathed included “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.”
Despite its seeming unpopularity, Rick Stark of Meshoppen managed to get most of the guests at a P&G department party held last Sunday at the Highway Inn singing along when he performed a karaoke rendition of “Grandma Got Runover…”
I could go on with the comments shared by the respondents for another hour and try to find a pattern or formula for what makes us like certain Christmas songs at certain times. But there is none. Holiday music is both subjective and very personal.
I enjoy it from mid December to Christmas day, in subtle doses up to the weekend before the holiday. I’ve commandeered caroling parties, so I obviously love to sing it. But, I have my limits on how much and where I want to hear it. I sometimes acknowledge when a Christmas song comes on the radio in the truck, but I block it out while shopping because I really don’t want to be in a store at all – I’m on a mission.
Christmas music will always be a part of our lives. Turn it up. Turn it down. But enjoy the better sounds of the season and sing along to your favorites.