Advent week 1: a Christmas post roundup

Considering my interest this year in finding practical ways to observe the rhythms of a healthy Christian life (e.g., giving up checking email on Sundays, taking a quarterly three-hour meditation “retreat”), you might think that I have a great plan to celebrate Advent.  I don’t.  I’m just going to do what I always do, which is to break out my Christmas decorations and music on December 1.  (I actually jumped the gun a little this year–I got my Christmas tea towels out yesterday.  And now for the big confession: I’ve been listening to the Celtic Holidays station on Pandora for weeks.)  But I have decided to write a Christmas post every Monday of the four weeks of Advent.  I have no idea what I’m going to write in most of these posts, but I’ll figure it out as I go.  Some of the posts may be better than others, but won’t that be more exciting than those chocolate Advent calendars that reveal the exact same square of bland chocolate every day?  I think so.

I feel a heavy, but probably totally imaginary, weight of expectation on my proverbial shoulders as I prepare to write these posts because I’ve always made a point of writing excellent Christmas posts ever since I began my blog in 2011, a tradition I’ve kept up even during periods when I’ve largely neglected to post  My first Christmas post , written just days after I started the blog, was short but profound.  Since then, I’ve written about topics as widely varying as A Christmas Carol adaptations, the school shooting that occurred in Newtown, CT, near Christmas in 2012 (a post I didn’t want to write but felt compelled to), Danny Kaye’s socks, a Charles Dickens Christmas story that’s NOT A Christmas Carol, and my bird ornaments.

In college, when I couldn’t figure out how to start a paper, I used to take up a page or more on introducing the topic, telling tangentially related anecdotes, and apologizing for what was to come.  By then, I was already well into my required page count!  I guess I haven’t changed much since then; I basically just did the blog version of that exact thing.  This post won’t be an entire waste of your time, however, if you click on the links in the preceding paragraph.  And I promise not to waste your time in my remaining three Advent posts (and my Boxing Day post!  It’s on a Monday this year).  When I next write to you, I’ll have all my bird ornaments up and will have listened to Harry Connick, Jr.’s When My Heart Finds Christmas (another vintage Penelope post topic) at least once.  See you then.



An album that ages well

This year Michael Buble (I haven’t figured out yet how to add an accent mark on WordPress–don’t laugh at me!) released his album Christmas.  Because MB is young and about as hip as an old-school crooner can be, and because he doesn’t have a mediocre acting career to rival his discography, he often, unfortunately, overshadows an artist who was making Big Band-style Christmas albums and sounding uncannily like Frank Sinatra long before little Michael came on the scene: Harry Connick, Jr.

Last night I listened, as I do at least once every year, to Harry’s first (and best) Christmas album, When My Heart Finds Christmas.  It has sappy moments, as you might guess from the title.  It has no logical flow–a funky number about Santa Claus is followed by a solemn, haunting piece about Jesus.  But it has fourteen of the greatest Christmas arrangements and originals ever recorded.  Here are a few reasons for its greatness:

1. Harry is never reluctant to let the band be the star.  On sweeping numbers like “O Holy Night” and “What Child Is This,” there are long sections of orchestration during which our crooner doesn’t get to show off his voice.  But Harry is fine with that.  This is a band album, not a solo album.

2. He’s also not afraid to–yes–remind us what Christmas is all about.  “The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day,” perhaps my favorite track (though it’s hard to pick), actually contains the line “Jesus died for me.”  Most CCM artists don’t even go that far on their Christmas albums!

3. Harry can do funk, not just jazz and classical fare.  “I Pray on Christmas” and “Must Have Been Ol’ Santa Claus” break out of the smooth, Sinatra/Buble-style mold and reveal Connick’s New Orleans roots.

Ok, I’m not a music critic, but trust me: it’s an album worth listening to.