I grew up in a musical house. One of the bedrooms is still known as the “piano room,” where my mother’s upright piano has sat since the day my parents moved in, before I was born. I started piano lessons when I was eight, and I learned how to read music a little bit, which helped with my abortive career as a middle-school saxophone player. One of my brothers played guitar, eventually took up the trombone, and played in the band all through high school. But there was more music in my house than that. Mom and Dad bought records, sang in the church choir (despite Dad’s inability to carry a tune), and Mom frequently played the piano for fun.
This time of year, Mom would play Christmas songs, often from The Christmas Carolers’ Book in Song and Story. Mom and Dad bought Christmas records, too, and we liked to put a big stack of them on the console stereo, filling the house with music while we put up the tree, or decorated Christmas cookies, or just for atmosphere. When I moved out on my own, I started buying Christmas records. The Temptations Christmas Card was first, in 1982. I collected a few vinyl albums during the 80s, most notably the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas and Phil Spector’s Christmas Album. Once the CD era began, I started buying more; in the download era, my Christmas library has exploded.
Although I am as irreligious as anybody you know, I like Christmas music, even religious Christmas music. I find no inconsistency in this, because I believe that even without Christianity, we would have something like the Christmas season anyhow—a time for expressing our love and appreciation to the people closest to us through acts of generosity and kindness. It would still be a season fired with magic, in which we’re showered with good things for the simple reason that we’re part of a human community. Because happiness has always moved human beings to song, we’d still have music that expresses those emotions. The symbols found in the songs might be different, but the joy would be the same.
What I believe when it comes to Christmas is this: the best “things” with which we are showered in this season are not material objects. Sometimes, the greatest gifts of the holiday season are not presents, but presence. That idea inspires a song that we have posted to kick off the holiday season at this blog since 2008: “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday.” There is no mightier version of it than the one by Ross Bon and the Mighty Blue Kings. Here’s a live performance from 2009.