SUPERFLUOUS 7 – More Things For Which I Am Thankful 

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.  – Charles Dickens

Eleven years ago in this space I presented a list of 7 Things I Am Thankful For, and before we proceed it must be understood that I am still grateful for all of them. I lost my Rocco a couple of years ago, but otherwise everything is status quo. That doesn’t preclude me from recognizing other blessings in my life though, right?? In looking back at that little ditty what I am struck by more than anything is the sense of melancholy in the intro. I would like to tell you that I feel differently about life now, but let’s face it…many of us have had a tough path the last couple of years. However, I believe it is that profound sense of loss & disaffection which makes it all the more important to acknowledge those things in life that bring us a little slice of occasional pleasure. So, as I wish The Manoverse a hearty & sincere Happy Thanksgiving, please enjoy…..

from the home office in Pilgrim, TX…..

The Superfluous 7 More Things For Which I Am Thankful:

7 Books 

Full disclosure…I am not as much of a reader as I once was. In the past a 500+ page book was child’s play, but sadly my attention span seems to have diminished. I purchase books with the best of intentions, but one of the more…uncomfortable…questions I get periodically is “How many of these books (in my apartment) have you read??”, with the honest answer being “Not as many as I would prefer”. There is actually a Japanese word for people like me. Tsundoku means “acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up without reading them”. Having said that, I am thankful for the books I have and the ones I will hoard in the future. I am happy that…theoretically…I am able to amuse myself with a well written book. Classic novels. Biographies. Books about sports, politics, food, history. It’s all good. Read to your children. Encourage them to appreciate books. They’ll never go out of style. 

6 Home Health 

In the past I have written about My Unfortunate Incarceration of 2006-08. What some may not know…because I prefer to keep things pretty low key…is that I have been going thru a similar experience since the spring of 2020, but it’s a lot different this time around. Social media is a big part of that (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram wasn’t a thing 15 years ago), along with a couple neighbors whose help is so appreciated it cannot be properly articulated. However, I want to give a shout out to home health nurses and others within such agencies. No one will ever know the depths of despair I have sporadically found myself in this past year & a half. People have their own problems and don’t want to hear someone else complain. But atleast I’ve been at home. Except for a couple of months spent in the hospital & another facility at the beginning of this arduous process I have been able to slowly heal in the peaceful comfort of my humble abode. I am not where I need to be yet. I’m not sure if/when I’ll be able to return to the work force. However, because of home health visits a few times per week I am able to eat my own food, watch my own television, sleep in my own bed, and even venture out on brief excursions (yes, they are aware I leave my apartment occasionally). The situation has been difficult as it is, but I believe if I’d been away from home this whole time it might’ve broken me. God bless the whole concept of home health and especially the men & women out on the road every day providing such amazing care to patients like me. 

5 People With Mechanical Skills 

I feel like there’s a better way to frame it, but my brain isn’t coming up with the right word. Y’all know what I mean though. Some folks are just…handy. They are the friends/neighbors/family you call to help install, repair, set up, & troubleshoot if that sort of thing just isn’t in your wheelhouse, or if you’re like me and have physical limitations that make certain scenarios challenging. A couple of years ago I bought a new television and hired someone to mount it on my living room wall. My neighbor Bernie has helped me put together new bookshelves a couple of times. In the past few years I’ve had to call roadside service twice when I busted a tire. Every once in awhile I’ve got to take the truck to a local garage for one thing or another (we’ve all been there). My wheelchair was in need of some repairs recently so I called the place where I bought it to set up a service call. If you are the type of person who can figure out just about anything and does everything yourself then congratulations…you can be thankful for that self-reliance, knowledge, & good old-fashioned know-how. However, I think we can safely assume that almost everyone needs help with something on occasion, and I am thankful that there is usually someone somewhere who knows a whole hell of a lot more than me. 

4 Technology

I realize that it is fashionable to wax nostalgic for the idyllic “old days” when life was simpler and our perception is that almost everything was “better”. It is also en vogue to rail against social media, television, The Internet, and all manner of technological advances. I am not here to vociferously defend any of those things. They’ve all done their part in destroying civilization (wow…that sounds pretty dramatic!!). Perhaps life was better and/or simpler 30, 50, or 100 years ago. However, since we have all that cool stuff available to us we may as well enjoy it. During this global pandemic we’ve all been living thru I have observed many friends reacquainting themselves with nature and enjoying all that the great outdoors has to offer. To borrow a phrase, it seems to renew their soul. However, as someone for whom that kind of thing has never been a viable option…especially in recent months…I am thankful for my big ol’ TV, smart phone, & laptop. I have a love/hate thing going with social media in that comparing the awesome lives of others to my own existence can drag me down, but on the the other hand I enjoy keeping up with friends, watching their kids grow up from afar, and staying in touch with the outside world. It’s a fascinating dichotomy, but today I am choosing to look at the glass as half full and embrace the positive aspects of modern technology. 

3 My Local Coffee Shop(s)

I am not a coffee person. I do not require a cup o’ joe every morning to wake up. Hot tea is my jam at home, and I cannot remember the last time I even fixed a cup of coffee. Once upon a time (three ministers ago) I used to enjoy a cup or two before Sunday school or at Wednesday evening Bible study. If you told me I’d never be allowed to consume coffee ever again my life wouldn’t change at all. However, something happened during the Quarantine of 2020. Restaurants began offering curbside service. One can call them up or order online and when you arrive they’ll bring it out to your vehicle. It’s a dream come true for fat guys in wheelchairs everywhere!! Since I do enjoy a little variety I began (before I ended up in the hospital) visiting a lovely coffee shop (not Starbucks 👀) not too far from here. I order a sandwich or pastry and a cup of coffee online, pick it up, park somewhere, and enjoy my food & beverage. This past summer, when I regained the ability to be out for short periods of time, I restarted the practice. I can’t afford to do it often, but it’s a nice option every once in awhile, and eventually I had a revelation: it isn’t about the coffee. It’s about taking a drive, listening to music in the truck, watching traffic, & observing the energy in the town as I drink my warm cup of serenity. Going out for coffee feels less consequential & more casual than lunch or dinner. The coffee is a classic MacGuffin. It is simply an excuse…motivation to get out & about and enjoy some sunshine & fresh air. Some people go hiking or fishing…I go out for coffee. There’s a new coffee shop opening even closer to me very soon and I can’t wait to check it out. 

2 The Robinson Grand 

Living in a small town is a doubled-edged sword. I love the slow pace, (mostly) friendly people, familiarity, solid family values, relative safety, & reasonably low cost of living. However, I have complained for decades about the dearth of job opportunities & total lack of entertainment options. There’s not much I can do about the former, but the latter was alleviated to some degree a few years ago with the re-opening of the Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center just a mile from my lair. I’m sure similar venues dot the landscape of hamlets like Clarksburg across the nation, but the RGPAC is ours and I’m going to brag on it. Originally built in 1913, it was the local movie theater when I was a kid in the late 1970’s & 80’s, but then a shopping mall came along & killed downtown. The Robinson Grand sat deserted & in disrepair for a very long time, but was restored to its former glory in 2018 (coincidentally by an old high school classmate of mine). Since then I have spent as much time there as circumstances, health, & financial considerations allow. I have enjoyed all kinds of cool stuff, from old movies like Beetlejuice & White Christmas to concerts with Travis Tritt, The Guess Who, & Chris Janson, to stage productions like Tony Award winning Once & community theater presentations of Annie and The Addams Family. The theater is accessible, the staff friendly & accommodating, and the entertainment top notch. I am reminded of a line in The Eagles’ song The Sad Cafe: “Oh it seemed like a holy place protected by amazing grace, and we would sing right out loud the things we could not say”.

1 Music 

When I was in school I played trombone in the band from 6th grade thru my senior year of high school. I’d originally intended to play trumpet, but since I am sitting down all the time and trumpet requires a lot of air it proved difficult and my teacher suggested the trombone. Anyway, I wasn’t that good & sold the instrument right after graduation. I never perceived trombone as being all that cool and harbored a secret desire to become a badass guitar player or learn the piano. A college friend attempted to teach me some guitar basics, but dexterity just isn’t my thing. I also enjoyed brief stretches in my church choir a couple of times, but as awesome as it’d be to be the lead vocalist of a sweet cover band the truth is I can’t sing either. At any rate, I am glad that I have felt a deep connection to music throughout my life. Novelist Aldous Huxley once opined that “after silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music”, and God knows music has been a good friend to me in good times & especially in not so good times. My preferences are eclectic, and I am extremely thankful for that. I don’t think I really developed decent taste until college, but in the ensuing years music has been such a blessing. I feel special kinship with the rock n’ roll of my youth, but also have an appreciation for classical, jazz, & blues and seek to become more knowledgeable about those genres. I may not listen to show tunes on a regular basis but delight in a good musical and marvel at the talent on stage. With the holidays approaching I will be immersing myself in Christmas carols & associated tunes. Thanks to my father I learned to admire crooners like Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin at an early age. Pretty much the only stuff I’m really not into is country & rap, although I find even some of that pleasurable. In the past couple of years I’ve spent more time than ever before listening to music and only wish that opportunities to enjoy live music were more convenient & accessible (that small town thing again). Henry David Thoreau said “When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest of times, and to the latest.”, which is quite profound yet understandable.

Top 25 Christmas Carols…The Top 10

Be sure to read Part 1 to get numbers 11-25 on this list. And now…from the home office in the beautiful, snow covered hills of northcentral West Virginia…The Manofesto’s Top 10 Christmas Carols:

 

 


10 Winter Wonderland / Jingle Bells

Ok, so The Top 10 is going to have slightly more than 10 songs. Hey, if the Big 10 conference can get away with having 11 football teams then why should I be forced to stay within arbitrary boundaries?? Anyway, as we move into the upper echelon you will find that the ubiquitous quotient increases exponentially. In other words, now we’re getting to the songs that you sing while caroling and hear on the radio several times per day this time of year. That kind of repetitiveness would serve to drive many of us nuts most of the time, but personally my love for Christmas carols is such that I not only can endure hearing the same song a half dozen times a day for a few weeks, but I actually embrace it.

Jingle Bells is yet another “winter carol”, meaning it’s not actually a Christmas song. Seriously…listen to the lyrics. It never references Jesus, Santa, trees, decorations, gifts, or anything else even remotely associated with Christmas. What it does do is make schlepping around outside in bitter cold and snow sound like fun, which I suppose it would be in a horse drawn sled as opposed to a two ton motor vehicle with hundreds of bad drivers surrounding you and endangering your life. All of us, from the smallest child to the greyest head have probably sung Jingle Bells thousands of times. It’s a happy, upbeat song and that’s a good thing.

Winter Wonderland was written in a sanitarium. I bet you didn’t know that. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. In the 1930’s, when the song was written, sanitariums weren’t places for mental patients…they were simply long term care hospitals, commonly used for folks with tuberculosis. Anyway, another example of a winter song that was not specifically written in reference to Christmas, Winter Wonderland also makes looking outside and realizing that it’s cold and there’s a ton of snow on the ground seem like a positive thing. It describes snow as “glistening” and “a beautiful sight”. The words conspire, frolic, and Eskimo are utilized as well, and that’s impressive and unique. FYI, because I am here not only to entertain but to educate, Parson Brown would have been a preacher. I kind of like that term. Maybe I’ll start calling my minister Parson Rod.

 

 

9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer / Frosty the Snowman

I realize I am in my late 30’s heading downhill toward 40. But darn it, I am fully in touch with my inner child and proud of it. Evidence that these two songs are the top two children’s’ Christmas songs can be found on your television, where two animated specials featuring Frosty and Rudolph have been annual traditions for over 40 years. Rudolph may be the second example in history where commerce and holiday wonder converged successfully not only on the balance sheet but in the hearts of the American public (leave me a comment on what you think was the first and we’ll see if we’re on the same wavelength). “The most famous reindeer of all” was created by an ad executive for Montgomery Ward department store in 1939. The character grew from that man’s story into the song written by Johnny Marks and recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 into the famous Rankin/Bass animated special first shown on television in 1964. Frosty was likely created in an effort to ride the wave of success brought on by Rudolph, but that’s okay. If one thinks of it as a sequel atleast it’s a good sequel and not something awful like Jaws: The Revenge or Staying Alive. It’s also another game effort to make cold, snowy weather seem pleasant. The Autry version of Rudolph is still the best, but a very close second is a swingin’ cover by Dean Martin, in which he refers to the titular character as Rudy the Red-Beaked Reindeer. How cool is that?? I personally still like the Jimmy Durante version of Frosty used for the television special better than any cover I’ve ever heard.

 

 

8 Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls continues the tradition of taking a tune (in this case a Welsh song written in the 16th century) and then creating appropriate lyrics for it a few hundred years later. A few random notes must be made about the song. “Gay apparel” meant a whole different thing when the words were written and has nothing to do with cross dressing or anything else in relation to sexual preferences. Jolly and merry are both used in the song, another example of painting a picture and telling us exactly how we, ideally, should feel during the Christmas season. And finally, as anyone who has watched the perennial holiday classic A Christmas Story can verify, Deck the Halls is the opening theme music as played by an unknown (atleast to me) but quite lovely brass ensemble. I love to hear this song sung by a choir or a group of carolers, and if it’s going to be played orchestrally it should be played in an old fashioned way, not too jazzed up with modern instruments and stylizations. One should be able to hear the trumpet, the trombone, and the saxophone.

 

 

7 Sleigh Ride

Sleigh Ride is the Christmas carol equivalent of Boise State or TCU…one doesn’t really expect to see it highly ranked but that lack of respect doesn’t make it any less worthy. Sleigh Ride is a winter carol not especially written for Christmas and has a lot of similarities both in structure and lyrical content with Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland. The inaugural version was recorded by The Boston Pops in 1949, and they probably still do it best, though I am torn between their purely instrumental adaptation and those with words, such as Mel Torme and Harry Connick Jr. My best advice is to learn the words…which speak of friends, wintry fairy lands, a wonderland of snow, being nice & rosy and comfy cozy, a fireplace, watching chestnuts pop, coffee & pumpkin pie, and Currier & Ives…then sing along to the Boston Pops rendition.

 

 

6 Jingle Bell Rock / Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

The connection here is obvious…rock. Rock n’ roll swept the nation into a frenzy in the 1950’s, and these carols came along during the latter part of that decade. Both tunes are more what we would today call rockabilly or southern rock, which is probably why I like them so much. I’m a huge fan of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stray Cats, and ZZ Top, all of whom fall into that genre to some degree. Even Elvis Presley was really a rockabilly artist. Anyway, both of these songs are just a swingin’ good time. As Dick Clark might say, “they have a good beat, and they’re easy to dance to…I give them both a 10”. The original Bobby Helms version of Jingle Bell Rock is still the best, although The Brian Setzer Orchestra did a nice cover. The song is the opening theme for the original Lethal Weapon (one of the best action and Christmas movies of all time) played just before a girl jumps off the top of a high rise apartment building into the roof of a parked car. Brenda Lee did the best and most well known version of Rockin’, and no other cover really stands out as particularly notable. When I hear it I always think of the scene in Home Alone when the bumbling crooks come by what they think is an empty house only to see a happenin’ party going down, a party that is really only MacCaulay Culkin’s Kevin manipulating a bunch of inanimate objects (including a cardboard Michael Jordan).

 

 

5 Silent Night

Earlier I made reference to sitting in a candlelit church at midnight on Christmas Eve singing softly. This is the second tune which fits that motif. Silent Night is a German carol written in the early 19th century by two Austrians. Supposedly the church organ was broken so the two men wrote the song specifically to be played on the guitar. That seems appropriate. Minimalism is the key when it comes to Silent Night. It doesn’t need to be loud, boisterous, or modern in any way. It needs to be simple, almost meditative. I find it perfectly acceptable to sing acapella, but also with just a single instrument, be it guitar, piano, saxophone, or trumpet. The words are quite possibly the most beautiful and eloquent description of the night Jesus was born ever written. I don’t think it is humanly possible for anyone with even an ounce of faith to not have something stir within them when they hear this song. Give me 24 hours with an atheist and an endless loop of Silent Night and I just might be able to accomplish something wonderful.

 

 

4 White Christmas

Here we go again with trying to make snow sound positive!! The question I have as a person who hates snow is…why do I get sucked in EVERY time?? Written in 1940 by famed composer Irving Berlin (who also wrote God Bless America, Steppin’ Out with My Baby, There’s No Business Like Show usiness and hundreds of other songs), White Christmas was made famous by Bing Crosby, who sang it in the movie Holiday Inn. The song itself inspired another movie (though not a sequel) starring Crosby…you can guess the title. The lyrics provide a perfect mix of wistful nostalgia and old fashioned romantic charm. It’s actually a pretty simple tune, with only two different stanzas that are just repeated. It is the most popular Christmas carol in the world and some say it is the most popular song in history, Christmas or otherwise. Because money grubbing bean counters didn’t really start tracking such things until a decade or so after the song was released no one really knows for sure, but it’s a nice thought. It is certainly influential. Ask yourself this…have you ever hoped, even slightly, for a white Christmas?? Yes, you have…everybody has. The question, again, is why?? Why are we so hell bent on trekking around to various relatives’ houses on Christmas Day in bitter cold and on icy roads?? It makes no logical sense. Christmas would be much easier and more convenient if it were 60 degrees and sunny. But…it just wouldn’t be…right. I blame this song on that kind of insanity being ingrained in to us…this wonderful, beautiful, powerfully expressive song. Because of its popularity dozens…probably hundreds…of artists have covered it. Almost any singer, band, orchestra, or other assorted musical performer who has ever produced a Christmas album puts White Christmas on the playlist. But really, there is only one rendition that is worthy, and that is Crosby’s. That man could sing. Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without White Christmas, and we’re all the better for it.

 

 

3 The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)

Let me get this off my chest right off the bat: I don’t really care for chestnuts. But look over the list so far…how many songs do I love that glorify snowy , cold, wintry weather all while I detest such conditions?? So who cares if I’d rather have a big ol’ hunk of chocolate cake than a bag of toasty chestnuts?? I have to admit though, Nat King Cole makes those chestnuts sound tasty. Written in 1944 during a heat wave by Mel Torme, the song began as a simple effort to “think cool”. I dig irony, and I dig descriptive. Several songs mentioned in this list paint a wonderful, cozy, fun, or nostalgic picture of the Christmas season, but none do it with the elegance and class of The Christmas Song. It talks about “yuletide carols being sung by a choir”, turkey, mistletoe, “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow”, Santa with his sleigh full of toys, and reindeer. It’s not a religious song, and it’s not a fun kids’ song…it’s sentimental without being sappy, lighthearted without being frivolous. The aforementioned Cole did the definitive version, and I tend not to stray far from it, though I do like Torme’s rendition alot. And as much as I hate to admit it, Kenny G does an exquisite instrumental on his saxophone. A piano and/or sax is essential for The Christmas Song, it’s just that kind of tune.

 

 

2 Blue Christmas

While White Christmas seems to get all the good PR, I give the nod to another color…blue. Country artist Ernest Tubb originally recorded the song in 1948, but a few years later The King (this time I mean Elvis, not Jesus) came along and the rest is history. I suppose Freud-types would love analyzing a single guy’s bromance with a Christmas carol about unrequited love, and that’s okay with me. It’s completely logical that a man in my situation would appreciate the subject matter, although there’s really no one that I am currently pining away for. Musically it’s a simple song, accompanied best on guitar. Elvis, despite his rockin’ reputation, was an exquisite singer with a sublime voice. I suppose that’s why no other cover quite lives up to his. There is one other version that I really like and it’s a bit off the beaten path. Some years ago a person calling themselves Seymour Swine did Blue Christmas as sung by Porky Pig. Folks, do yourself a favor…if you have not heard Blue Christmas by Porky Pig/Seymour Swine stop whatever you are doing and Google it right now. It is one of the funniest things I have ever heard in my life. I have never been able to find out the story behind Seymour Swine and have never heard any other songs by that artist. I think Blue Christmas may have been recorded live in a radio station or something, as one of the funniest things about it is the guys laughing in the background…it makes the song that much funnier. I don’t know of another Christmas carol that evokes such opposite emotions depending upon who is doing the singing. It’s quite the odd dichotomy.

 

 

1 O Holy Night

As bumbling burglar Marv says to his partner Harry in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York…”I’ve reached the top!”. O Holy Night completes the triumvirate of songs best enjoyed in a candlelit church on Christmas Eve. Written in the mid-19th century in France, it is an emotional account of the night Jesus was born. It refers to the “thrill of hope” as “the weary world rejoices”, a “world in sin and error pining”. It uses words like glorious, divine, beaming, and gleaming to describe that hope, the hope we have in our Savior, Jesus Christ. The song tells us exactly what Jesus is all about, that “He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger”, that “He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace”, and that “chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease”. If you can’t get on fire for The Lord after reading those words there is something missing and you better get on your knees and search your soul! But…reading the words isn’t even a good substitute for hearing the song. When done right it is soft and tender before building into a powerful crescendo that fills the heart with emotion. Nat King Cole did a great cover in the 60’s, but he doesn’t have quite enough gas in the tank to pull off the climax as well as it should be done. For my money the best cover I’ve heard is probably Josh Groban’s from a few years ago. That dude has some pipes!! I am sure there are other good versions that I am not thinking of at the moment. At any rate, it’s a beautiful song that should be sung acapella or with very minimal instrumentation by a legitimately great singer, not someone who is good looking and can sing just enough to justify making a record (a description that unfortunately describes probably 75% of what you hear on the radio).

 

 

 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. And God bless us everyone.

 

 

Top 25 Christmas Carols…Part 1

I love Christmas. Love it. I enjoy the movies, the food, the lights, the aromas, and the general overall buzz around the holiday season. Now I grant you, commercialization has become an issue, and I sometimes feel that many of us get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that it all becomes one big pressure cooker instead of the sublime delight it always should be. And in an increasingly amoral society where Christianity has become an unlikely villain the true reason for the season is not only oftentimes lost, but sometimes overtly censored. However, be that as it may, I cannot control how others’ live their lives and I won’t let them spoil my joy.


A vital component to ones’ pleasure during this time of the year is the music. Christmas carols are just splendid. Some are soft, sentimental, and full of spiritual reverence. Others are amusing and frivolous. Our modern catalog of carols run the full width and breadth of an extensive range of genres and styles, but they all have one thing in common…they are beloved by the masses. And because of their popularity and flexibility most Christmas tunes have been covered by a plethora of artists over the course of the decades. So any particular song you like has probably been performed by everyone from country superstars to crooners to rockers to full orchestras. What I am presenting here is a two part special …my Top 25 Christmas carols.


When making this list I took several factors into consideration. Some songs are just so ubiquitous that one either loves them or hates them…period. Sometimes one particular version of a song is extremely memorable and has made it a holiday staple. I’m not discriminatory when it comes to subject matter. In other words, you will see some religious songs and some fun songs. There are particular artists that I tend to gravitate toward, and certain genres I like better than others. I like jazzy, bluesy versions of songs. I like big band or orchestral arrangements. I like crooners like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Harry Connick Jr., and Michael Buble. I like people who can actually sing…so it’s unlikely that any kind of post-modern rap, alternative, or bubblegum pop will frost my cupcake. I am also very fond of simple, stripped down instrumental interpretations…lyrics can be important, but not always necessary. Most of these songs have been around for many many many years, and I’m a huge advocate of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. I suppose I’m either old fashioned or a traditionalist, depending on the spin one chooses to utilize. At any rate, this is my list…one can either agree or disagree. Enjoy.

 

 

 


25 The Chipmunk Song

The Chipmunks were created in the late 1950’s and have enjoyed an on again-off again, intermittently successful career over five decades. As a child of the 1980’s I fondly recall the Saturday morning Chipmunks cartoon. But their first success is still their best…an almost too simple tune about being anxious (as most kids are) for Christmas to arrive and wanting toy planes and a hula hoop.

 

 

24 God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

This is one of the oldest carols, having been written in the fifteenth century. Unabashedly and overtly delivering the message of the birth of Jesus and the gift of salvation to the world, it’s a tune supple enough to be energetically sung by a choir or congregation, or solemnly played by any manner of instrument.

 

 

23 It’s Beginning to Look Alot Like Christmas

Maybe this should more accurately be categorized as a pre-Christmas song, one intended to set the mood and prepare us for the onslaught. Most 21st century parents would give anything if all their kids wanted were hopalong boots or dolls that can talk as opposed to the mega-expensive video games, computers, and various other electronic toys today’s children demand, and a lesson in economics can be gleaned when pondering a “five-and-ten” in comparison with their modern counterparts, dollar stores. I dig almost anything that hearkens back to a less complicated time, even if, in reality, those times weren’t much less complicated. Perry Como and Johnny Mathis did the two best covers of the song.

 

 

22 I’ll Be Home for Christmas / Home for The Holidays / Please Come Home for Christmas

I made this a tie for one reason. These three songs have a common thread…home. However and wherever one defines “home”, it’s where we want to be for Christmas. I’ll Be Home for Christmas was written and recorded during World War II and was extremely significant to soldiers and their families. Bing Crosby was the original artist, but I’m not married to that particular version per se…countless artists have done perfectly wonderful covers. Perry Como said it best in Home for The Holidays when he sang “no matter how far away you roam, if you want to be happy in a million ways, for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home”. Please Come Home for Christmas has a couple things going for it in my universe. It was originally a blues carol, and its best covers have been done by two of my favorite bands, The Eagles and Bon Jovi. The Eagles version is especially popular and usually in heavy rotation on your local radio station. These are melancholy songs, but that’s okay…Christmas is often a bittersweet season.

 

 

21 Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! / Meli Kalikimaka

Another tie, another reason. Both of these songs have attachments to movies. Let It Snow is played at the end of my favorite action flick, Die Hard, which I consider a Christmas movie even if no one else does. Meli Kalikimaka (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas) is prominent in Chevy Chase’s classic Christmas Vacation. Bing Crosby does the definitive version of Mele Kalikimaka, while Let It Snow is done best by original artist Vaughn Monroe but a viable alternative is the Dean Martin cover. Let It Snow is technically a winter song and makes no references to Christmas at all, but it has become so closely associated with the holiday season that it qualifies as a Christmas carol.

 

 

20 O Come All Ye Faithful/ Adeste Fideles

This isn’t a tie. It’s the same song in two different languages. Adeste Fideles was originally written…maybe…in the 13th century. No one knows for sure. It was translated into English as the more familiar O Come All Ye Faithful in the 19th century. The words of the song exhort us to celebrate the birth of Christ, to adore and behold The King. However, I have to say that the best versions of this song are audacious, grand, thunderous ensemble pieces by orchestras like The Boston Pops or the Mannheim Steamroller.

 

 

19 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

In the opening I spoke of some songs being ubiquitous during the Christmas season. This is a perfect example. With lyrics written in the 1700’s by Charles Wesley (brother of John, the founder of Methodism) and paired with music composed by Felix Mendelssohn a hundred years later, this is just one of those songs that IS Christmas. It speaks of everything Christmas should encompass: glory to The King (Jesus Christ, not Elvis), peace, mercy, joy, triumph, and righteousness. Like other songs it speaks about the birth of Christ and what that means to the world, and since that is the whole point of Christmas it’s fine with me if the message is rehashed in as many songs as possible. Off the top of my head I cannot think of one singular cover that stands out…they’re all great since it’s a pretty difficult song to mess up. It lends itself well to orchestral or instrumental versions, but choral versions with the words are probably my favorite.

 

 

18 Santa Claus Is Coming to Town / Here Comes Santa Claus

As we grow into adulthood our thoughts about Christmas begin to evolve. Those of us whose faith is extremely important understand and revere the fact that the birth of Christ is the centerpiece of the holiday. Adults who don’t consider themselves to be particularly spiritual appreciate things like home, family, and sentimental memories. But for kids Christmas is all about The Big Guy, the Jolly Old Elf, the fat man in the red suit…Santa Claus. So it makes sense that there would be a plethora of Christmas carols dedicated to Kris Kringle. The two most pervasive of these have been covered by an endless array of artists with mixed results, but they are so wonderful because they are so descriptive. They paint such a vivid picture of the mythology of Santa that anyone who doesn’t know the story can have it re-created in their mind just from these songs. Here Comes Santa Claus was written in 1946 by cowboy Gene Autry, who also sang the definitive version. About Santa, the singer sings  “he doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, he loves you just the same…Santa knows that we’re God’s children, that makes everything right…fill your hearts with Christmas cheer cause Santa Claus comes tonight”. What a great message. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town was written in 1934 and is a sort of cautionary tale for children. It warns them that Santa knows when they are sleeping and awake, knows when they’ve been bad or good, and will be making a list and checking it twice so he can divide it into two categories: naughty and nice. Call it gentle discipline or call it mind games…but it works and has scared millions of kids into being good little boys and girls. Bruce Springsteen might have the best known cover of the tune, but I think that’s simply because it’s so odd to hear such a gruff and tough rocker singing a children’s Christmas carol.

 

 

17 Away in a Manger

One of the seminal moments of the Christmas season for me is sitting in church during midnight service with nothing but the soft glow of candles in the window to light the sanctuary as the congregation softly sings. This moment usually encompasses three songs, one of which is Away in a Manger. Published in the late 1800’s, it has been credited by some to famed 16th century theologian Martin Luther, but there seems to be a lot of disagreement on the facts. At any rate, it’s a beautiful song that takes us back to the night of Jesus’ birth, the night He was born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. The best covers of the song seem to be by country artists, possibly because the majority of them still seem to have some virtue remaining and are therefore capable of singing songs of faith with some sense of authenticity.

 

 

16 Joy to the World

Joy to the World is another song that have been adopted as a Christmas carol but wasn’t originally written as one. As a matter of fact, it’s actually about Christ’s Second Coming, not His first. Nevertheless, it is such an ingrained part of the holiday season that we won’t quibble over details. It’s a tune best performed in as loud and energetic a fashion as can possibly be mustered…afterall, the book of Psalms directs us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. So I tend to like boisterous choral or booming orchestral versions of the song. As a matter of fact, when it comes to Joy to the World I am not sure any singer or band could be subtle and hushed, although I am sure some have tried.

 

 

15 Carol of the Bells

I’ve seen the words, and they are quite lovely and appropriate. However, the best way to enjoy this one hands down is a strictly instrumental version. Carol of the Bells is a Ukrainian carol written early in the 20th century. I’m not sure where it ranks in general popularity since even if you do know the words (and most don’t) it’s not really something you sing as you trek thru the neighborhood on your annual church singalong…the pace is rather quick and not caroling friendly. But I like the tune a lot. It’s kind of a Christmas theme song, one of those tunes that you hear in commercials, in bumper music during talk radio shows, at the mall on the loudspeakers, etc. It’s everywhere, yet not so overdone that it grows tiresome. Plus I think I may have learned to play it in high school as part of the concert band’s holiday show.

 

 

14 Angels We Have Heard On High

You know this one…the one where the singer bellows out at the top of their lungs “Glo-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-o-o-o-o-O-ri-a in Ex-cel-sis De-o!”. When sung by a great choir it’s absolutely beautiful, but even in just a commonplace group of worshipers or carolers it is usually sung with such fervent spirit that it doesn’t matter if not everyone can actually carry a tune. The aforementioned refrain is Latin for “glory to God in the highest”, which pretty much sums up what Christmas is, or atleast should be, about. I love orchestral versions of the song as well. The music lends itself well to things like French horns, cornets, and trombones. It doesn’t seem to get as much love as a lot of other carols, but I’ll take Angels over Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer or I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus any day.

 

 

13 Holly Jolly Christmas

A friend of mind in college once told me I looked like Burl Ives. I’ve always had an…ample…midsection, and at the time I was sporting a goatee.

Anyway, Burl Ives, as some may or may or may not recall, was a folk singer/actor/entertainer from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. But he is most likely best known to most, especially anyone under the age of 35, as the voice of Sam the Snowman, narrator of the perennial Christmas classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even as an adult I cannot wait each Christmas season for that TV special. And even though Burl’s performance of the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t at the top of the list (more on that song later), he did contribute two other tunes…Silver & Gold and Holly Jolly Christmas. Holly Jolly Christmas could probably best be described as…catchy. It’s just got that kind of beat. And while some carols are melancholy, many show reverence to Christ, and others are plainly meant for kids, Holly Jolly Christmas is uplifting, positive, and fun without being the least bit childish. It talks about things like “the best time of the year”, “mistletoe”, “cup of cheer”, and “friends you know”. This is the kind of song that should put you instantly in a good mood no matter what’s going on in your life.

 

 

12 The Twelve Days of Christmas

First of all…yes…it’s not by accident that The Twelve Days of Christmas just so happened to end up at number 12. I’m poetic like that. Sue me. Secondly, a little refresher for those who might not know what in the world the 12 days of Christmas actually means. After all, we live in a world where we start celebrating” Christmas almost before Halloween is over and these days almost certainly before Thanksgiving has even arrived. Of course by “celebrating” I mean retail stores and anyone else who has figured out a way to make a buck off of the birth of Jesus Christ. Anyway, originally the 12 days of Christmas were December 25-January 5, followed by Epiphany on January 6 (this is the day that the Magi, aka The Three Wise Men, arrived to visit the baby Jesus…not on Christmas as so many Christmas plays portray). Encompassed within this timeframe is Boxing Day on December 26. Contrary to what some may think, Boxing Day is not the day Canadians and Englishmen come bearing gifts to Muhammed Ali, Mike Tyson, and Floyd Mayweather Jr.  January 5 was known as Twelfth Night and was the conclusion to the holiday season. The entire 12 days was a long festival of gift giving & merriment. So basically in the Middle Ages folks in England did what we do today, only they did it in 12 days instead of 2 months and they did it later. December 25 was the actual beginning of the season for them, whereas in modern times most of us are exhausted and ready for the whole ordeal to be over by the time the actual holiday arrives. What we call New Year’s Eve/Day was when they were really into the swing of things. By January 6 we’ve already moved on with our lives and those crazy cats were just winding down. Personally I’d LOVE to see our country revert back to this old fashioned way of doing things, but that and $2 will almost buy me a cup of coffee.

As far as the song, there is a modern folktale that says it was written in code to teach Catholics about their faith at a time when Catholicism was illegal. Supposedly the True Love is God, the Partridge in a Pear Tree is Jesus Christ, the Two Turtle Doves are the Old & New Testaments, the Three French Hens are The Trinity, the four colly birds are the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John),  the Five Golden Rings are the Pentateuch or first five books of the Old Testament, the Six Geese-a-laying are the six days of Creation, the Seven Swans-a-swimming are the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord), the Eight Maids-a-milking are the Beatitudes (see Matthew 5:3-12), the Nine Ladies Dancing are the Fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:19-23), the Ten Lords-a-leaping are The Ten Commandments, the Eleven Pipers Piping are the 11 faithful Apostles, and the Twelve Drummers Drumming are The Apostles’ Creed. Whether or not this story is accurate is unknown and quite honestly to me is irrelevant. Especially in an era when anything pro-God is treated dismissively the story is treated with a complete lack of respect. Even if the song wasn’t originally written for this suggested purpose I think it’s a great way to interpret it.

 

 

11 Silver Bells

How come the only time we hear bells is around Christmas?? Bells are quite charming and should be heard more often. However, the other 11 months’ loss is the Christmas season’s gain. Silver Bells was written in 1950, and unlike a lot of other Christmas carols that emphasize rustic, old-fashioned, pastoral settings this tune recognizes the hustle and bustle that overcomes a city during the holiday season. What’s funny is that a half century later even that description sounds quaint and charming. This song holds a special place in the hearts of millions of us who grew up watching the annual Bob Hope Christmas Special, which ran on NBC for over 40 years. Three traditions were a huge part of the Hope Christmas show: the introduction of the All America College Football Team, Hope closing the show with his theme song Thanks for the Memory, and a duet featuring Hope and a much younger, very attractive starlet singing Silver Bells. I didn’t realize until I was actually writing this how much of an indelible mark those specials made on me. The last one aired over 15 years ago and Bob Hope himself has been gone for about 6 years. Thanks for the memories indeed Bob.