To follow up on Monday’s post about conjuring up the Christmas spirit, I wanted to share a few favorite books, movies, and albums that put my contributors and me in the holiday mood. We tried to think of things beyond the usual Frosty the Snowman and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – since, classic though they are, you no doubt already know them. So here’s our short list:
Advent at Ephesus, by the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of Apostles. It’s hard to find good Advent music, and this is one of the most beautiful collections I’ve heard. We’ve been playing it every night since B heard about it, and frankly, we’ll probably play it right through the Christmas season (although I was pleased to see the sisters previously released a Christmas album, too). If you aren’t lifted to the heavens by these beautiful arrangements and angelic voices, visit your doctor. And don’t be put off by their simple website; these cloistered nuns haven’t hit the bigtime yet, but give them a little time.
Wintersong, by Sarah McLachlan. Let me say right off the bat that I’m not a fan of modern holiday music. But then B and I received this album one Christmas early in our marriage, a gift from my mother. McLachlan has roots in Nova Scotia, and many of her selections have a Maritime flavor. Her renditions of the traditional “The First Noel” and “Silent Night” are terrific. I can’t listen to this CD without tearing up — probably because it reminds me of home, but also because it’s just a lovely soundtrack for the Christmas holiday and wintertime in general.
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats. This is a new favorite in our home, even though it’s been around for a while. Two years ago, when I discovered this story about a little boy and the wonder of snow, I stuck it on my Amazon wish list, thinking it would be perfect for our future children. Now they’re here, and S and H could not be more excited about the prospect of falling snowflakes. The illustrations are sweet, sweet, sweet. This is one I’m sure we’ll be reading together for many years to come.
I have to admit, my only must-watch movie at Christmas is It’s a Wonderful Life. Nothing unique about that, so to recommend something a bit off-kilter, how about a re-watching of Edward Scissorhands? There are, of course, some oldies but goodies, like The Bells of Saint Mary’s and Miracle on 34th Street. When the girls get a bit older, I’ll introduce them to Little Women. The book is better, but the movie is well done and very Christmassy.
Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book. When I was growing up, this book was packed away with our ornaments every year, so pulling it out was always like my first present of Christmas. It’s full of hymns, poems, Bible passages, and Christmas stories, not to mention plenty of Rockwell’s artwork. I would pretty much commandeer the book for the entirety of the Christmas season; I don’t think you can read “The Gift of the Magi” or “The Worst Christmas Story” too many times. I still look forward to reading it every year when we visit my parents, and I plan to find my own copy eventually so that my children can enjoy it as well.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Nazareth” by Rita Ford’s Music Boxes — a sweet and beautiful song that was on a compilation of Christmas music that we played growing up. Actually, it might be a toss-up between that and Mahalia Jackson’s “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” — both immediately put me in a more peaceful and Christmas-like mood, even in the pre-Christmas craziness.
Babar and Father Christmas, by Jean Du Brunoff. I was enchanted by Babar and his kingdom of elephants as a kid — and now, my own children are equally enthralled with him. In Babar and Father Christmas, the elephants learn of a mysterious person who visits the land of men to deliver presents at Christmas. Would he do the same for the kingdom of the elephants? Babar goes to find out and a delightful adventure follows.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas (illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman). Simply the perfect evocation of childhood memories and the sense impressions that form them. An old boss of mine would have us read it aloud at our annual Christmas party, which I highly recommend trying; the lyrical prose is such a treat to hear. (Even better, there’s a recording of the Welsh poet reading it himself, if you’re a little too shy for public performances.) My nephews love the gorgeous illustrations in this particular edition (and the fun stories of mischief) — one of those Christmas stories for all ages.
I recommended a slew of Advent and Christmas albums last year, and I still stand behind them all (particularly Nat King Cole; that might be my desert island pick). This year, I would add The Cherry Tree by Anonymous 4; these spare a capella arrangements of medieval English carols are perfect for the remaining days leading up to Christmas. For a more experimental Christmas, check out Sufjan Stevens’ Silver and Gold, his second five-disc Christmas music compilation, released this fall. I haven’t listened to the whole thing yet, but it will certainly give you the most bang for your buck.
This is both a music and a movie recommendation: The Nutcracker. Every Christmas when I was little, my parents would take us to see the ballet — and then, once I was a bit older, I danced in it myself each winter, so this music is pretty well burned into my memory. It’s one of those albums that immediately puts me in the Christmas spirit without making me feel like I’m “rushing” the holiday. Do right by any future bunheads in your family and pick up the complete ballet suite, rather than just the “highlights.” (Though for fun, I definitely recommend the Brian Setzer Orchestra’s 7-minute medley of the whole shebang.) Can’t take your family to a live performance? This film version featuring the New York City Ballet is a great place to start (narrated by Kevin Kline and filmed more like a movie rather than just a staged performance, it’s a bit more engaging for younger kids) — though Baryshnikov and Kirkland will always reign supreme.
A Muppet Christmas Carol. I’m ostensibly recommending this movie for you parents with young children, but my family still watches it most Christmases. Readers of a certain age who grew up watching The Muppet Show don’t need any further endorsement; it’s a pretty faithful adaptation to boot, and Michael Caine (here playing Scrooge) makes everything more awesome. Definitely family classic material.
There you have it, friends — SlowMama’s holiday favorites for 2012! Hope some of them pique your interest… Have any others to share? Leave them in the comments!
Header image: Graeme Robertson