Someone asked me recently what my favorite christmas song is. That's tough. I know a LOT of Christmas songs, having sung in a church choir regularly from age 8 to 22. After a long think, I finally decided that I could only answer with a favorite song in each category, like the Oscars. Just as it's impossible to compare the artistic merits of Schindler's List with those of, say, Monsters, Inc., it's equally impossible for me to choose between the "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" movement of the Messiah and "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer." So rather than name one fav, here are my picks for the best in their category:
O Holy Night, as performed by Luciano Poveratti and the Vienna Boys Choir
Best Medieval Christmas tune: (you knew there had to be a Medieval category. It's me, after all.)
Nowell Sing We Both Al And Somme as performed by the Folger Consort
Best carol for singing on a street corner in a light snowfall:
Deck the Halls (ALL verses)
Best carol for belting it out in church and letting lose at the top of your lungs:
Angels We Have Heard On High (all those faboo fucking "Glorias." Gotta love 'em.)
Best pop Christmas tune:
Simon and Garfunkels's 7 O'Clock News/Silent Night
(If you havn't heard it, it's amazing. It's Silent Night, sung in Paul's breath-taking two-part harmonies, to the accompaniment of the arpegio bit of Schubert's Ave Maria, and overlaid with narration of bits of news of 1960s and 70s, mentioning the Vietnam war and Dr. King. Stunning.)
Best Christmas tune from a movie:
Welcome Christmas from Dr. Suess's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," music and lyrics by Ted Geisel, performed by the Whos, the tall and the small, and little Cindy Lou Who, who was no more than two.
Recent sentimental favorite:
Once In Royal David's City
Because the first time I heard it, J was singing it to me (I always melted when he sang to me), and it will always be a reminder of the best moments of our friendship, which apparently now exists only in my memory.
Childhood sentimental favorite:
Happy Birthday, Jesus by Etelle Levitt and Lee Pockniss, as performed by the Saint Mary Star of the Sea children's choir, accompanied by Mary Malewitz, directed by Evelyn Leonard.
Mrs. Leonard was my first music teacher, in sunday school, when i was two years old. I can still remember some of the songs we sang then. She was also my second-grade teacher and my choir mistress for 6 years. I love Mrs. Leonard. This song was her favorite, and every year while in grade school I went with the children's choir to hospitals and nursing homes and shopping malls (shoppers being every bit as miserable as confined, incontinent, over-medicated, familyless invalids apparently). We all wore red and green, and I always had to stand in the back row because even when I was 8 I was as tall as some of the 6th graders, and we always finished with this song. For all you deprived readers whose lives have never been blessed by this song, I shall type out the lyrics for you. If you ring me and ask, I'll sing it to you (but you're advised to wait a few more days until I'm over this miserable head cold).
Katie got a dolly that cries and blinks its eyes
Jimmy got an automatic plane that really flies
But we were poor that Christmas
So mamma stayed up all night long
Sittin' in the kitchen, makin' us a present,
It was this song:
Church bells ring-a-ling, angels sing-a-ling
Happy Birthday, Jesus
Snow flakes ting-a-ling, sleigh bells jing-a-ling
Happy Birthday, Jesus.
All year long we wait just to celebrate
This Christmas morn,
And we want you to know
We're so glad you were born!
So have a merry very* happy birthday, Jesus.
Teddy bears get broken, and trains will rust away.
All the fancy play-things seem to fall apart some day.
But I was very lucky:
When everybody's gift was gone
I still had my present! Mamma's song of Christmas
Lived on and on!
Christmas is for children, and now I have my own.
Their eyes are full of wonder when all the toys are shown.
But I'll give them something better
Than anything that's on TV,
Something very special, something made for ever,
*yes, it really is "merry very," not the other way 'round. That's call poetic licence. When you're a songwriter you can do sophisticated things like that, for the purposes of making shoppers and hospital patients think the kids are fucking it up again.