One of my holiday quirks that my husband just doesn't get is my love of and need for Christian Christmas music. As you all know, I am not religious in the slightest and am best described as an Awakened Catholic. But 13 years of Catholic school and Christmas masses have taken their toll on me, and I LOVE old, traditional, Christmas music. I will take "O Holy Night" over "Jingle Bells" any day of the week. My favorite Christmas carol ever is an extremely obscure Latin song called "Angelus Ad Pastores Ait" - I sang it in high school when I was part of the concert choir and have been obsessed with it ever since. As much as I have trolled the internet, I am as of yet still unable to find a recording of the arrangement we used back in '99. I look for it every year.
I consider every Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Christina Aguilera, Faith Hill, and every other pop/country bastardization of Christmas music to be the most horrendous shit ever created. It makes my ears bleed. I hate "Silent Night" just because of how many times it's been recorded and fucked with over the years, so I don't listen to it anymore.
There is something about the sound of a choir - the harmonies, the intricate balance of parts, the full sound they create - there's nothing like it in the world. "The Carol of the Bells," for example, is just not the same when performed any other way. I think that's why the Christian stuff is so dear to my heart - because it's all written for choirs to perform, it's very intense and complex, has so much more substance.
But really, it's more personal than that. Every year, from kindergarten through senior year of high school I was part of a Christmas concert. I have, at one time or another, sang just about every Christmas carol you can imagine in an auditorium or church. We had some great musical directors who went on to conduct large-city orchestras. In other words, this was serious shit for us. It meant spending block after block of classroom time practicing singing our parts for the show instead of doing long division. And it is rehearsing a complex harmony in a large, empty, echoing church that makes you fall in love with a particular piece of music.
My senior year Christmas concert we sang "Angelus Ad Pastores Ait" and "Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming." I loved, Loved, LOVED doing the less well-known stuff. It sticks with you. So for the rest of my life, no matter how far from religion I may stray, the songs about the birth of a savior will continue to bring tears to my eyes when performed the "right" way.
The other, similar holiday feature that strikes a chord with me is The Nutcracker. My mom used to have The Nutcracker Suite on cassette tape (imagine!), and my little sister and I would put it on full blast and dance improv ballet on the hardwood floors in front of the lit-up Christmas tree in our socks. My mom used to put on the PBS broadcast of The Nutcracker Ballet every Christmas, and we would watch Clara's every move with rapt attention, hoping that her twirling techniques would magically bestow themselves upon us through the TV screen.
We would drink egg nog and hot chocolate with candy canes in it. Decorating the tree was an all-night affair that we were always excited about. Christmas was the one time of year where almost no one in my family fought, or was angry, and nothing bad ever seemed to happen. Our family would come together at one big gathering, we would get dressed up, we would spend the entire day together eating, talking, and exchanging gifts. A decade later my parents would be divorced and we would never again see our entire family in the same place to share a holiday together.
When it was over and the tree was gone, the excitement was worn off, The Nutcracker tape was put away, things would return to normal and the arguing and fighting would resume. I remember one time my sister and I pulled out The Nutcracker Suite sometime around April and tried to dance to it again. It just wasn't the same.
The nostalgia I feel for these small holiday-related things is strong. I dragged my husband to my old high school last night to see the Christmas Concert that I was a part of exactly 10 years ago. It left much to be desired after seeing all the changes that have taken place. I loved my high school, so it breaks my heart that it's been altered so drastically. I did not get the Christmas fix I so desperately needed.
So today, I am taking my little sister to see The Nutcracker ballet at symphony hall. Hopefully it is every bit as captivating as I remember.