Holidays are always a mixture of stress and magic, joy and longing, laughing and crying. For many years, most of my life actually, I have been far away from someone or many people I love at the holidays and I each passing year I wonder when it will get easier to be either here or there for Christmas. The answer is: never.
When I was a kid I began to understand very quickly that the holidays would always have me in a state of missing someone. We lived far away from both sets of grandparents and other family. It wasn’t easy for us to journey to Missouri for the holidays as we didn’t have the funds to travel or my dad was scheduled to work and we simply couldn’t make the trip. Instead of spending Christmas running to Grandma or playing with our cousins, it was usually me, Mom and Dad, and my sister gathered around the table. But, we had great holidays with friends and created our own traditions. I have a strong sentimental side, especially at Christmas, and have always smitten by the magic of the season. When I was a child I would find myself situated in front of our family tree looking at all of the decorations and lights, dreaming about miracles and making a wish while listening to my favorite tunes. Even then I was preparing myself for a long life of spending these days wishing to hug someone dear.
Since music has always been one of my strongest forms of communication, I compiled a playlist of some old and new favorites for anyone celebrating the holidays away from someone they love. It’s a dash of sugar, a pinch of kitsch, and a smidgen of sap.
1. You always want to start the season with joy, and for me one quintessential song for the holidays is Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Be it at home with the family or your first party of the season, the song just feels good and paints a smile across everyone’s face. It’s a feel good song and everyone always seems to stop and smile when it’s played.
2. Later, when I’m still feeling festive and want to continue to dace with a classic rock and soul vibe Darlene Love brings it home with a plea to her beloved. I mean, it’s Christmas! Come home already!
3. Of course my Christmas music list could never be complete without Elvis crooning and lamenting, bringing a little rock and a little blues to the season with Blue Christmas. The King of Rock-n-Roll pouts his way through this one and makes us all a little blue. And don’t bother with anyone else singing this one. Elvis breaks your heart with enough shake in his voice to get you feeling blue enough to relate.
4. One of my favorite songs of the season, if not my very favorite, is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. It’s been recorded many times by several artists and it’s hard to nail down my most preferred version. The song is a bit of a daydream and the bittersweet reality of being away from whatever “home” means to someone with the line “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”. This one just gets me in the feels, the center of my own yearning for “home for the holidays” thoughts. “Christmas eve will find me, where the love light gleams”. It’s hard for me to narrow down my favorite version as all of these bring their own flavor, so I have at least shortened the list to my top three. Harry Connick Jr. serves a jazzy longing here with plenty of horns and strings to make you feel a bit cozy and a bit sad. Another version I enjoy for its nostalgia is by Frank Sinatra. It’s simply classic and with the hint of “Silent Night” at the beginning takes the song to a quiet moment of peace and yearning. It’s simply beautiful. Finally, the stripped down version by She and Him is a simplified yet modern take on this holiday standard. This one leaves you with a hopeful heart with its slightly more upbeat style. Any rendition of this song, though, will always give me the warm fuzzies.
5. This one was passed on to me by a friend. It’s a forgotten little tune, but one with heart, longing, and the truest spirit of the holidays. “One Little Christmas Tree” by Stevie Wonder breaks your heart, but is capable of rebuilding it with a hopeful message. Plus, Stevie Wonder’s voice is one which promises some sort of childhood reminiscence and to comfort to feed the soul. Hearing him sing is a bit like hearing an old friend welcome you home.
6. This year, perhaps more than ever, Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” punches me right in the heart, at the center of my warm, ewwy, gooey core. Hearing her voice feels like sitting in the kitchen with Grandma; smelling the sticky top cake baking in the oven. And while there is a bit of heartbreak in this song and particularly in Judy’s voice, this original version will always make any holiday playlist I create.
7. Mariah Carey released a Christmas album in 1994 and her 60’s throwback “All I Want for Christmas is You” was arguably the most popular song from the record. In the spirit of Darlene Love, she petitions to see the one she loves to a sugar coated pop beat. It became even more popular when covered in “Love Actually” when we fell head over heels for it again when a little boy desperately wanted to win over the girl of his dreams. It’s definitely a favorite of mine and lightens the mood a bit when I’m stuck in a bah-humbug moment.
8. Following this feel good song and returning the Motown sound, Charles Brown’s version of “Please Come Home for Christmas” is simply perfect. “if not by Christmas, then by New Years night…” he begs. It’s one of those songs you listen to while sitting by a window watching snow or rain fall while sipping a hot cocoa and let the blues take you. It is suited for a solo night of contemplation and should you fins yourself missing a certain someone this year, be sure to add some Bailey’s in the hot chocolate.
9. The last two songs to end my list aren’t considered to be Christmas songs, but have found a home on my list of holiday traditions. I’ve heard “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong played by others at this time of the year. Perhaps it isn’t so much about Christmas as it is about the year’s end and the hopeful start of a new beginning. The song is dear, his voice iconic, and it simply feels good. It encourages a hopeful outlook as it invites you to take a moment and see, truly see how beautiful life can be if you’re willing to take a moment to acknowledge the quiet magic he he describes simple, every day occurrences.
10. Finally, in 1990 I watched a day time talk show’s holiday special and saw this song performed as a dedication to anyone spending their holidays away from a loved one. It never mentions Christmas and, as far as I know, was never intended to be a Christmas song, but it always moves my spirit this time of the year. Oleta Adams’ “Get Here” became a tradition for me when I saw her sing it next a piano, under a single spotlight. She describes her need to be near someone and offers a list of exactly how he or she can get there. And, in the truest form of any wistful ballad, she bridges the song with the line, “There are hills and mountains between us. Always something to get over. If I had my way, surely you’d be closer. I need you closer”. It moved me then and as it does now and if you miss someone , this song will speak to your heart and possibly mist your eyes.”I don’t care how you get, just get here when you can…”.
Holidays are meant to be a time to reflect on what it important to us. We can’t always spend them with certain people, in places we miss. For me, I have always missed someone at Christmas and being with everyone I loved would certainly be impossible. However, I can reflect on how truly fortunate I am to have them in my life. And, if I’m lucky, I will be able to spend my holidays with some very special people….eventually. So, here’s to celebrating the love we share. Here’s to those whom we love near and far. And here’s to new beginnings in 2017.
I wish you a Merry Christmas and Buon Natale. May we be blessed with unconditional love.