Holiday Season

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So, the holiday season is upon us.  It took me until this week to get my Christmas tree up.  The photo is deceptive.  My tree is just a little table-top tree.  I don’t have enough space in my little apartment for a full-size tree.  There will be presents underneath it soon enough as I acquire them.  I’ve got a few already, but I haven’t started wrapping yet.

Now, I feel I should put a disclaimer here.  I’m not a Christian.  I was raised Christian, but discovered after I went to school that my beliefs are actually more in line with Zen Buddhism.  However, I don’t feel that this means I shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.  It’s an important holiday to my friends and family, and I believe (as I think they would) that in a way, Christmas is about being together with friends and family.  Just because I no longer share their beliefs doesn’t mean that I can’t be respectful and celebrate with them.  We can be respectful of other holidays while not necessarily sharing those beliefs: Hanukkah, for example.  So I see no conflict of interest.

Also, Christmas is a part of my culture, as much as Buddhist holidays are a part of the culture of Japan.  To try to cut the celebration of this holiday out of my life is to try and cut an important part of who I am away.  I can’t separate my past or the way I was raised from who I am now.  I say this so that everyone reading this will understand where I’m coming from when I’m talking about Christmas.

Enough serious philosophy stuff.  I want to share one of my favorite parts of the holiday season: Christmas music!  Now, when it comes to Christmas music, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  I don’t like modern pop artist renditions of old favorites.  Part of that could be that I don’t like much modern pop.  You give me some Frank Sinatra crooning, and I’m happy.  Now, despite this, I do like instrumental remixes.  For this reason, I really like Mannheim Steamroller (more than I like Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is another favorite of a lot of people).  Almost any of their Christmas albums are good, but here’s a few of my favorite albums:

  Mannheim Steamroller: A Fresh Aire Christmas  – This was actually the first Mannheim Steamroller album that I heard.  It has a few of my favorite carols like Greensleeves and Carol of the Bells, but the thing that makes this album for me is the second track, Veni Veni.  It’s O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but done in Latin as a Gregorian chant.  Absolutely gorgeous.  Link to Amazon.

Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Live – This one has a nice variety of songs, with only a little crossover with the previous album.  Of note is Pat a Pan, Gagliarda, and two renditions of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.  Given that God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of my all time favorite carols, that there are two versions here makes my heart sing.  Link to Amazon.

Carol for the Planet – Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to have a track listing for this CD.  There are several lovely tracks:  Good King Wenceslas, Sing We Now of Christmas, Carol of the Bells (again), and a track called French Carol.  The CD is entirely instrumental except for the final track, which is a dramatic reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas.  It’s my least favorite track, but a nice performance, none-the-less.  Link to Amazon.

I tend to listen to these three CDs, plus a few others I have around, on repeat for most of the Christmas season.  It’s the only time I can without someone saying “You know it’s not Christmas, right?”  Of course, sometimes I want something different.  For that, I use Last.fm.  Last.fm is a online radio, similar to Pandora.  (I was exposed to Last.fm before Pandora, hence my preference.)  You do need to register for a free account to listen, but once you do that, all you have to do is type in “Christmas” and it will generate a radio station entirely of Christmas music.  This is great if, like me, you can’t listen to local radio in your apartment (thanks, really old apartments), but your internet connection is always stable.

To me this is the first start to getting into the holiday mood.  What are your favorite holiday CDs?  I’m always looking to try new things.

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