Christmas is only two days away. The shopping and wrapping is finished, baking done, and house decorated and cleaned. It is time to nourish your weary body and enjoy a good Christmas story, inspiring DVD, and/or listen to some holiday stories and music. I’m sure that you have your favorite, the ones you listen to each holiday. Well, I have mine too and I’d like to share some of my favorites with you. A few of these are old and in cassette format. If you don’t know what an audio cassette is, you’ve missed out on some lovely entertainment. You won’t find some of these on ITunes or GOOGLE Play, but they are so worth seeking out.
In 1937 Glanville and Elizabeth Heisch wrote a Christmas story that remained immensely popular with children for about 25 years, The Cinnamon Bear. Judy and Jimmy Barton’s adventures begin when they go up to the attic to get the family’s silver star tree topper. The Crazy Quilt Dragon has stolen the star and the siblings must search through Maybeland with friend Paddy O’Cinnamon to recover the star. The series, consisting of 26 episodes was later made into a 1950s TV serial. It was made available in the 80’s in a 6 audio cassette package. The Cinnamon Bear has always been a favorite story, one that fills me with memories of my childhood Christmases.
Another radio based treasure comes from a 1990s airing of “The Midnight Special” which was a weekly show broadcast on WFMT in Chicago. One special Christmas piece has stayed with me all these years. I call it “The Wonderfulest Christmas in the United States.” If memory serves the story was told to Studs Turkel who passed it on, but it is originally a John Henry Faulks Christmas story of a young, poor Texas boy who tells a stranger of the Christmas he and his family had with their neighbors the Jacksons joining in. There wasn’t much “Christmas” to go around in their town, but an organization was distributing some special food and treats to poor families. The boy’s dad heard about it and went to see if it was true. Sure enough he was able to get wonderful holiday treats for his family. He asked his neighbor, Sam Jackson, whether or not he, too, had gotten some of the treats, but Sam said that he didn’t think that the bounty was meant for black folks, so he didn’t go into town with expectations. The rest of the story reveals the joy the boy and the two families had making the ‘wonderfulest’ Christmas together, young boys laughing, mothers cooking and dads making a long table, covered with white sheets, that looked like it “belonged in a cathedral or somethin’”. It is a simple story simply told about unbounded joy—something mostly lost today in our over-commercialized culture. I don’t know if this is available anywhere, but seeking it out would be well worth the time.
Of course there are easier programs and music you can find. I recommend Rick Steve’s European Christmas TV special. This enjoyable program seeks out current, past, and pre-Christian holiday traditions in places like Norway, England, and other European venues. Perry Como’s DVD Christmas Around the World is a delight, showing excerpts from Como’s Christmas specials in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Visit with the Boys’ Choir in Vienna, Colonial Williamsburg’s Town Crier, schoolchildren in Mexico, and other places. The DVD concludes with a visit to Bethlehem. Perry’s soothing voice and calm, pleasant manner make the compilation a special treat for my family’s holiday viewing.
Although audio cassettes are long gone from store shelves—for that matter store shelves are in short supply too—I have squirreled away a few favorites, having the equipment at hand on which to play the cassettes. The Christmas titles include Carols from Many Lands by The Choir of Ely Cathedral, directed by Paul Trepte with organist David Price. It was purchased from Past Times an English Company that may have gone the way of store shelves. The company used to publish a fabulous catalog and many hours were wistfully spent going through its pages. My favorite seasonal cassette is not necessarily for the Holiday Season, but it is certainly inspirational. In a 1986 Angel Records (Seraphim, Capitol Records, Inc.) Daniel Barenboim conducts The New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus in the finest performance of Bach’s Magnificat that I have ever heard. The reverse side isn’t bad either: Bruckner’s Te Deum.
Some of my CD favorites include the more popular titles like The Glenn Miller Orchestra, In the Christmas Mood, Michael Bublé’s Christmas, a 2011 Reprise title, and a 1999 recording by The Irish Tenors, Home for Christmas. In addition, we often listen to hubby’s favorite, The Very Best of Bing Crosby Christmas, 1999 MCA Records. Hubby is a sucker for Der Bingle. We watch the White Christmas DVD so much that I have two copies.
Some less well known groups round out my favorite CD Christmas list. Altramar Medieval Music Ensemble is an Indiana University group are a delight to listen to. The ensemble specializes in “sharing historical repertory in the context of human experience…evoking the vibrant tapestry of medieval culture.” Each piece is carefully researched, and beautifully performed on period instruments. I have several Altramar CDs and they are wonderful. Their two volumes of Iberian Gardens is outstanding, but for Christmas I love Nova Stella: A Medieval Italian Christmas, 1996 Dorian Discovery, Dorian Group, Ltd.
Ensemble Galilei with or without Maggie Sansone is a favorite of mine. Two of their Christmas titles are Ancient Noels with Maggie Sansone. The CD features “traditional carols, medieval cantigas, and Renaissance dances (that) bring to life images of desert landscapes and stone monasteries where the Christmas spirit was born” 1993, Maggie’s Music. A Winter’s Night: Christmas in the Great Hall features classic medieval and Renaissance carols from Galicia, Spain, Scotland, and Ireland as well as “original compositions to mark the winter solstice.” It was produced by Maggie’s Music, 2001 and 2002. The first title features recorders, viola da gamba, Celtic harp, and hammered dulcimer. The second adds pipes, oboe, tin whistle, flute, and Uilleann Pipes. Kick back and enjoy!
What will I be listening to this Christmas Eve? Right now I have Bach’s Magnificat playing on the stereo. In a while, when hubby is asleep, I will re-enact my customary Christmas Eve activity which is to watch the 1951, black and white, version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring Alistar Sim. Although I have access to the colorized version, it’s got to the the black and white tonight.