Her world is alive and warm with the sounds of Christmas music

The Baltimore Sun

Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, we break out our Christmas CDs. Our children would request Christmas music early in the season when they were little, and now we think it is perfectly normal to hear Bing Crosby crooning "White Christmas" on the morning of Nov. 1.

Sure, it's a little odd to be out in your yard, raking fall leaves to Julie Andrews' "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" in your earphones. But we're used to it.

Fortunately, we have quite a variety of music - Tchaikovsky, Mannheim Steamroller, the Vienna Boys' Choir, 'N Sync, Martina McBride, Ken Navarro, even the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors - so it never becomes tiresome. And that's just a smattering of our overwhelming anthology. Yes, here in Janet's World, we have no window treatments, no matching furniture, no decorator accents - but more Christmas CDs than Baltimore's 101.9 Lite FM.

As a result, my family can sing along to most any Christmas song playing on a retailer's public address system. We can easily identify the original 1953 version of Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby," and we will not hesitate to tell you why it is better than any of the dozens of remakes.

We snobbishly eschewed the Sunday school standard, "Go Tell it on the Mountain," until we heard James Taylor's soulful arrangement on his latest CD. A little-known Robert Downey Jr. recording of "River" is a good tune to play when you are writing sentimental holiday letters and would like to indulge in a good cry.

And, of course, the original Alvin and the Chipmunks recording of "Christmas Don't be Late" is annoyingly, gratingly jubilant, no matter how frequently it is played.

Many churches do not permit Christmas music in their services until after Dec. 25, and this can be difficult to explain to small children who wonder why "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" is not this week's Communion hymn. But a side benefit is that the services provide a welcome, peaceful respite from the commercial cacophony of the shopping malls.

On the other hand, all you sing for the month leading up to Christmas is that 12th-century hit, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," which is usually arranged in a minor key and sung at a lugubrious pace. It also features approximately 97 verses.

So it is good to be able to escape the funk brought on by excessive renditions of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and put on a Christmas CD whenever the mood strikes you. You hear "Away in a Manger," and you suddenly recall how you won the solo in the third grade. But then you had to move to a new school, where your status took a dive from supreme soloist to class cootie.

You hear "Jingle Bells" and flash back to the time you ate so much sugar-cookie batter when your mother wasn't looking that you had to go lie down, which wasn't altogether unpleasant because at least you missed the annual cleanup of the spilled sprinkles. You hear "The Little Drummer Boy," and you are curiously 12 again, standing in the monotonous rum-pum-pum section and struggling to remain awake through this possibly never-ending song at the midnight service.

These Christmas-song-induced memories continue to warm our hearts, in a haunting sort of way. And because we have heard these holiday songs forever, many of us can sing rudimentary harmony lines. It is empowering to find yourself doing an impromptu duet on "Silent Night" with Alan Jackson from the front seat of your minivan.

Once, singing "O Holy Night" with Celine Dion while walking my dog, I could not sustain the high note, so I let her take the solo. I joined back in seamlessly when I caught my breath. The fantastic thing about singing along with a beautifully orchestrated recording of a renowned vocalist is that you truly believe that you sound just as fabulous.

Which brings me to the question of the season: Do you hear what I hear?

Contact Janet at janet@janetgilbertonline.com.

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