Category Archives: Christmas

Revising the Modern Christmas Standards, personal edition

Your Honour, in the long-standing argument that pop music trends tend to overlook truly creative work for more mediocre, predictable music, I’d like to enter some examples in the genre of Christmas music.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

This is the time of year when I actively avoid anything by Pentatonix, Mariah Carey, or Paul McCartney. Santa Baby has no place in my music rotation, nor does Driving Home for Christmas.

These past few years, I’ve gotten very tired of the usual suspects. I’ve started digging deeper, following hints and vague mentions to find tracks that don’t get heard as often.

I guess the seeds for this were planted a decade ago or so, when I unexpectedly spent a whole Christmas season in Canada. Greg Lake’s I Believe in Father Christmas was getting airplay as a ‘deep cut’ on FM rock stations looking for token Christmas songs to play (and tired of the usual Springsteen / U2 / Brian Adams fare).

Father Christmas isn’t as much of a departure from tradition as, say, The Pogues’ Fairy Tale of New York City, but it was a solid ear worm to replace anything by Michael Bublé.

And Father Christmas pairs nicely with another song popular a decade ago, Faith Hill’s Where Are You Christmas? Both songs follow similar emotional journeys, from despair to a renewal of hope, of sorts. I know Faith’s song is widely popular, and that’s fine, it’s just a nice addition to the season; beats another rendition of Marshmallow World any day.

Then I came across a song called “The River,” originally by Joni Mitchell, although it was Blue Rodeo’s cover that I heard first (and will probably always be ‘my’ version of the song). Again, it’s not a particularly happy song.

The next three songs that became part of my Christmas playlist aren’t Christmas songs at all (not even in a token form like “Winter Wonderland”).

The first was Chagall Duet by Jon Anderson. The second song is by him also, Hurry Home (the version from Change We Must). Neither is a Christmas song. Hurry Home is about intergalactic travel.

The third song most definitely isn’t a Christmas song either, it’s called Easter. It’s by Marillion, a band that, if you’re British, you either love or hate, and if you’re American, you’ve never heard of them. I’ve known them (and this song) for decades, being one of the few Canadians to fall in love with their song Kayleigh (along with Warm Wet Circles). Easter never popped for me until I saw the video of their performance of it at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Most recently, I’ve been adding actual Christmas songs to my playlist, although they may be obscure. Surely most people my age had at least heard of The Band. I’ve never been a big fan beyond a few songs, but their song Christmas Must Be Tonight has popped to the top of my playlist this year. And I’m not the only one. I’ve seen others suddenly recommending it, too.

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer who has always written songs that sound personal. Her Make it Christmas Day, a plea for reconnecting with Christ, is definitely one of those songs.

I’ll end this with two lighter songs that I enjoy even if their style is rather mainstream. The first is a Canadian act from when I was younger, the Partland Brothers. Their Christmas song, Christmas Day has a heavy pull of nostalgia for me, even though I’ve only known the song for five years or so. I think it may be the chord that it’s sung in, with the long sonorous notes.

The second one I’ve just discovered in 2022 even though it’s over a decade old. My Favourite Time of Year by the Florin Street Band is a nice song that sounds like it would do well on radio. Reading up on it, it’s basically a one person project started to reinvigorate Christmas songwriting in the UK.

I’ll end by mentioning two new entries that may end up becoming favourites in our household, both from the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special: I don’t know what Christmas is (but Christmastime is here) and Here it is, Christmastime.

Merry Christmas, 2022

The War on Christmas

“This is WTVU tracking Santa’s progress on Christmas Eve,” It was a typical seasonal fluff story, the kind that the kids just out of J-school got assigned. Christine shouldn’t be doing it. This was punishment, especially for a single mom. She smiled, I’ll take their crap and bake a cake. “I’m joined by General Josiah Clark from NORAD control here in Colorado Springs. General, what can we expect?”

“General, inbound bogey!” A voice interrupted. “Southerly track, eastern seaboard.” Right on time, Christine looked at her watch and smiled. 6:12 p.m., so just after 8pm on the eastern seaboard, almost perfectly timed for the first commercial break during prime time. The kids were going to love this! Christine nodded her approval: This crew was well-prepared.

“Calmly, folks.” The General turned to his men, “We’ve trained for this. We know what to do. Put it on the big screen. Scramble intercept fighters.

Behind Christine, and perfectly in the frame of the camera, a map of North America lit up, superimposed with air traffic moved steadily around it. One blip far up north was highlighted, flashing.

“Fighters away, sir! CAP estimates intercept over northern Labrador in four minutes.”
Christine turned back to the camera, “Oh, a bit of excitement. Could this be Saint Nick making an appearance?” 

Behind her, but still visible on camera, the General opened a flask and took a quick swig. When he saw the camera watching him, he raised the flask in salutation.
“Tis the season,” He winked to the camera and moved off to oversee his men.
“And we’re out.” Off air, the cameraman was frantically gesticulating towards Christine, asking if she’d seen that. She brushed him off. She hadn’t seen it.

The corporal sitting at the second radar station was having a hard time not looking at her. She smiled encouragingly to him. He may be fifteen years younger, but that would just mean that he’d hit puberty during the height of her popularity.

Am I on your bucket list? She wondered. Should you be on my naughty list?

“It’s a seven minute break,” The cameraman interrupted her reverie, as if his words were supposed to mean something to her. She shrugged her non-comprehension. He made an ‘aren’t you stupid’ face and explained, “They intercept before we’re back on air.”

Of course, damn it. She felt frustration at how the world conspired against her. Yes, she’d slept with her producer. Yes, he was married. But why was she the only one being punished? She’d only slept with him to gain the weekend anchor desk. Now she was covering Santa Tracker on Christmas Eve!

The message was clear. She’d been too naughty in a profession that still punished women for the crimes of men.

But she’d also heard that the weekend desk might be opening up at rival WFVT. A good night tonight might raise her audience goodwill rating enough to land that gig instead. Screw WTVU.

Three minutes back.

“General, we have visual!” One of the ground controllers shouted. Christine looked at her cameraman, who was talking through his earpiece to the station. He nodded. They were going to go live – a Special Bulletin. Yeah!

A soft count, three, two, one…

“We’re back at NORAD, where we’ve had some fun developments with the Santa Tracker.” She picked her moment and tapped the shy corporal on his shoulder. “Can you tell us what’s going on?”

He looked startled, from her to the camera, back to her, and then he spoke past her. “Sir! We have confirmed the bogey is real. It’s moving at about mach 2. Heat signatures are confirmed.”

“Very well, tell our pilots to do a close pass. I want a visual.”

“Yes sir!”

“Very exciting,” Christine grabbed the general’s arm, turned him toward the camera.

“General, is this how it goes every year?”

“Lady, we don’t know what ‘this’ is yet. Now please keep the camera out of the way.”

That wasn’t according to script. Christine had watched the last ten years’ of Santa Tracker coverage. It was always gentle, light-hearted. This felt … tense.

Christine turned back to her camera, deflecting her momentary doubts by tossing her hair. Marketing surveys always said that men loved her hair and women envied it.

“Well, another interesting night!” Time to play up the noble warrior angle. “Our brave sons, brothers, and fathers are working diligently to keep us all safe this Christmas and every night.”

The cameraman was giving her the ‘wrap’ signal. “Now back to A Charlie Brown Christmas already in progress!”

Once they were off air, the cameramen propped his camera against a desk. “This isn’t normal,” he said. “This is my fifth year, and it’s never been this tense.”

Christine wasn’t sure how to address that.

“And some advice,” the cameraman leaned in, “leave the corporal alone. He’s having a bad night.”

During their downtimes, Christine imagined how she could cut this footage, add it to her highlight reel. In her mind, she was already revising a letter to the News Director at WFVT.

It should almost be time for another check in. She looked at her cameraman who was looking at her and touching his earpiece to let her know that the station was talking to him. “We’re coming back, regularly scheduled piece in five, four…”

He barely had the camera up when Christine started to speak. “Welcome back. NORAD is busy right now checking out what may very well be Santa. Let’s listen in…”

Christine gestured for the camera to come closer, and look over her shoulder. That would look so good on her highlight reel, she smiled as she turned, making sure to keep her hair out of the camera frame.

The information was coming fast, and from multiple servicemen:“Sir, pilots report that the object is about the size of a private jet.”

“Sir, the craft has no transponder and has not responded to challenges on commercial channels.”

“Sir, the bogey has begun a rapid descent towards Gander!”

Christine turned toward the camera and whispered, “Gander is in Newfoundland, one of Santa’s first stops on the continent!” She’d done her research. Tonight she needed to be perfect. She didn’t intend to spend next Christmas away from her sons.

“Description, I need a description.” The General bellowed, rage-pacing behind the radar operators.

“Sir, it’s brown and red. Correction, pilots report that the hull is red with no identifiable markings, no running lights. It appears to be being pulled by a number of brown elk.”


“Yes sir, pilot confirms, elk.”

“Damn those Commies! It’s a bomb.”

Christine spun, barely remembering to wield her microphone, her authority. “Commies? General, surely it’s Santa?”

“My pilot identified elk, not reindeer, elk. It’s those damned Commies trying to sneak a bomb onto the continent.” Christine thought his speech sounded a bit slurred.

“Elk, reindeer,” she tried one more time to be reasonable, “Aren’t they the same thing?”

“Ma’am,” The General looked directly into the camera, his bloodshot eyes dominating the screen, fighting to focus. “My pilots are highly trained at visual identification. If they say elk, then they’re elk.”

“Your pilots can tell an elk from a reindeer?” The General turned his back on Christine’s badgering. He had more important things to do.

With one last swig from the flask, then casting it aside, the General roared, “Weapons go hot. I want that Commie down before he reaches anyone! Engage! Engage! Engage!”

“Engage! Engage! Engage! Aye, sir. Order confirmed.”

Christine, her cameraman, and everyone watching A Charlie Brown Christmas on the Fox Network that night saw the blip disappear from the projected radar screen.

“Yes!” The General pumped the air, turning gleefully back towards the camera. “That’ll teach that Commie bastard about transponders!”

“You… just… killed… Santa…” Christine pointed to the camera, her anger boiling over, “on live TV!”

She bit back tears, even as her inner voice said, screw the highlight reel, this will make me a star. Fox and Friends, here I come!

“Biggest Commie of them all, if you ask me. Giving free toys to everyone. Commie, I tell ya.” The General’s voice trailed out as he leaned on her, his hand reaching down her back for an inappropriate squeeze, “Say, could you introduce me to Tucker Carlson?”

NOTES on 2021 edition:
A) Santa has a transponder that you can follow online; his call sign is R3DN053 (rednose).
B) I wrote this story about a decade ago. Back then the last line was Bill O’Reilly. Then it became Sean Hannity. Now it’s Tucker Carlson.

Has Mariah Carey Bing Crosbied Herself?

It’s a simple thought. Twenty, thirty, forty … seventy years from now, will anyone be able to name any Mariah Carey song other than “All I Want for Christmas is You”?

Look at this list of best-selling artists from yesteryear, and the one song you probably know them by:

Burl Ives – Holly Jolly Christmas (1964)

Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting) (1947)

Perry Como – Ave Maria

Gene Autry – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949)

Brenda Lee – Rocking Around the Christmas Tree (1958)

Andy Williams – The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963)

But Mariah might not be alone in joining this list. I think Faith Hill might only leave “Where Are You Christmas?” as her legacy and I wonder if any Wham song will outlive “Last Christmas”.

Isn’t it better to be known for something than nothing at all? Perhaps. But Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra also released Christmas albums. Their releases never became holiday standards, and we remember them for other works.

None of this is meant as a critique of the artists. I’m just noting how history has judged certain artists’ legacies and offering a few who may end with the same fate.

Merry Christmas (2019)

Christmas is in 8 days.

I thought I’d end the year on a festive note, so here’s some photos of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at Christmas, 2019.

Merry Christmas, Everyone

Carols by Candlelight, or Candles by Carol-light as I kept calling it. Holy Trinity Church, Dec 15, 2019

Live trees for sale at IKEA, this doesn’t happen every year.

One of the big shopping centres, Suria KLCC, looks nice, but don’t touch.

Mid Valley Shopping Centre is much more hands-on

The Gardens wants you to know that it’s upscale and elegant

I love decorating our faux fireplace. This year, it’s against the balcony doors.

The fireplace at night – the city lights show through the sheer curtains

We did buy that IKEA tree, here it is decorated in our living room.

This 100-word story of mine was published back in 2015. I own the rights now, So here it is, No Prize for Second Place