So the last couple of days I’ve brought you some fun and goofy fare, but today we’re getting a little more serene, a little more toward the heart of the holiday — which has its roots in religious celebration. (And I’ll leave you to argue, if you must, over which religion or religions I’m talking about.)
Although I was raised a devout Catholic, that didn’t end up being my true path. But spirituality is very important to me as a feature of the Human Condition and as something which matters deeply in my own life. And so while I don’t necessarily share the same beliefs or faith of some Christmas carols, I can certainly appreciate them, either in a function of nostalgia or simply because they are beautiful. One of my favorite religious songs is “O Come, Emmanuel.” Some might accuse me of loving any song in a minor key, and that might be true. This particular song is one I used to sing regularly when I was a child, and it always made me feel peaceful, calm, centered. This version of it by ThePianoGuys is lovely, and the setting of the video is quite pretty, even if some could suggest the video feels mildly bombastic in tone.
One of my very favorite Yuletide songs is “Carol of the Bells.” When I was a child, I knew this song only as a lovely and too-short instrumental piece, but when I sang in the mixed chorus in high school and actually learned there were words and what they were, it became the one song in the repertory I looked most forward to singing. Like probably every other high school chorus ever, we sang it a cappella, of course, in four-part harmony, of course, but to me, it was special. It was also one of the first songs from which I ever learned to appreciate the complex workings of overlaid voices, and everything coming together at once felt sort of magical.
Many versions of this song have been made. I’m rather partial to George Winston’s piano rendition on his album December (Windham Hill, 1982) — which is a great album, by the way, if you like piano music. Actually, the only version of this song I’ve ever heard that I did not like is the one they play on Houston’s Official Christmas Music Station. (I’m sure you’re shocked by this.) I don’t even know who’s responsible for that version; they sound like a typical 1970s mixed adult chorus who are probably all wearing matching polyester with matching helmet hair and are swaying and snapping their fingers in a matching Stepford-like pattern. The accompanying music screams jazz hands. This version of the song has very different and extremely religiously-charged lyrics. (Now, obviously, I understand that there is a very healthy foundation in this holiday which is religious, and I have no problem with that. I actually like many religious carols, too. But the way they screwed up this one, ugh. Bad doggie, no biscuit.)
Enough of that. I’m presenting to you two videos of this song. The first is from a television special that came on when I was young; it had the California Raisins and other Claymation figures performing Christmas music in a sort of variety show format reminiscent of Sha-Na-Na. (Do you remember that show? No? God, I’m old.)
Anyway, the California Raisins and Claymation in general were a big deal back then, too, and my dad had recorded this Christmas music special onto a VHS tape, and we must have worn it out just rewinding and rewatching the “Dumb Bell” segment because we thought it was so funny.
But in case this kind of camp isn’t to your taste anymore — and you would have all my sympathies if it weren’t — I’ve also found this lovely video of ThePianoGuys that might be more your speed. Enjoy.