Christmas Impressions: A Journey Through Memories

When I was in college, I minored in Art History. I loved learning about ancient cave paintings, Renaissance painters, Byzantine mosaics… I loved it all. My favorite art movement then and now is the Impressionist movement. I could sit in the classroom and listen to my professor talk about artists like Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and Degas forever. The thing that most intrigues me about the Impressionist movement is how the great Impressionist artists were able to capture snapshots of everyday life with such authenticity and movement. I love looking at a painting and feeling whisked into the world of the artist, if only for a moment.

As I write this, I am listening to the Christmas playlist that I curated myself with songs that remind me of celebrating Christmas with my family through the years. My mom was always cooking and baking yummy things at Christmastime. When I was growing up, she would play Christmas CDs on our old boombox in the kitchen while she cooked. These Christmas CDs always provided the setting for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Each song, much like an Impressionist painting or sculpture, whisks me into my memories and I thought I would share some of these brief Christmas impressions with you.

Deck the Halls – Manheim Steamroller

I’m in middle school. My sister, Nicole, has come home from college and Christmas preparations are beginning. Deck the Halls blares from Mom’s boombox and Nicole and I break into a jaunty dance, partly making fun of the cheesiness of the music but mostly so overcome with excitement that the only way to expel our energy is through a little bad dancing in the kitchen.

Jingle Bells? – Barbra Streisand

I’m in third grade and Mom and Dad have just rediscovered their Barbra Streisand Christmas record. Dad puts the record on in our old lanai and Barbra’s slightly manic rendition of Jingle Bells begins. For an eight-year-old, nothing is more fun than trying to keep up with her quick lyrics. Many mistakes and laughs later, I collapse onto the floor, out of breath.

Must Be Santa – Mitch Miller & The Gang

I’m listening to this CD in the kitchen one Christmas, as Mom prepares for my Dad’s office Christmas party, which we are hosting at our house. Mom is making hot buttered rum, stuffed cherry tomatoes,  and sausage & cheese dip. The dining room table is set with a cornucopia of food, sweets, treats, and drinks for the party.

One of the perks of having a dentist for a dad was that other local dental offices and patients often gifted our family with fun treats at Christmas. This particular year, the local bakery has sent my dad a yule log, which serves as the centerpiece of my parents’ magnificent Christmas party spread.

The party starts and my friend, Sam, and I fill our plates with goodies, pour ourselves little cups of “hot buttered” (no rum for us kids!) and sit at the kitchen table, eating, laughing, eavesdropping on the party festivities, and listening to Mitch Miller.

The Nutcracker Suite – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

I have several memories of The Nutcracker Suite. I danced in The Nutcracker Suite the one year I took ballet (not my thing). I played the Russian Dance from The Nutcracker Suite in my Christmas piano recital when I was 10. However, the most distinct memory I have of The Nutcracker Suite was the year I spent Christmas with a bunch of crickets.

I’m in ninth grade and over Christmas break, my classmates and I are tasked with the dreaded science fair project. After thinking long and hard about a topic for the science fair, I decided to test the effect of music on the behavior of crickets.

Dad takes me to the smelliest place on Earth, a bait shop called Salty Bass, where we purchase some crickets. We divide them among three cages. We set the experiment up: one cage sits in silence, one cage is set up in a room next to a speaker that is playing The Nutcracker Suite, the experimental cage moves between the two rooms, exposing the crickets to music and silence in regular intervals. The result is that music actually causes crickets to polarize next to the speaker.

It was a pretty cool experiment but there were two things I liked the most about it. One was listening to The Nutcracker Suite – I absolutely love Tchaikovsky. The other was that I conducted the experiment in my sisters’ rooms before they came home from college and both of their rooms smelled like crickets for the holiday season. Heh heh.

O Tannenbaum – Vince Guaraldi Trio

One of my favorite holiday soundtracks is the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. I love watching Charlie Brown every year with my family. We watch it several times each holiday season and it remains one of my favorites.

This is the first year Z has been interested in watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. Therefore, we have already watched it 1,742 times.

Canned Heat – Jamiroquai

No, this isn’t a Christmas song. However, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is wrapping presents with my sister, Kara, and watching the movie Center Stage. Yes, it is cheesy. Yes, it is a little lame. Is it fun, though? YOU BET!

Nothing says Merry Christmas more than watching cheesy movies with family, no?

All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

For several years after high school, five of my best high school friends and I would always get together at Christmas. We were spread out all over the country and Christmas was the one time a year that the Six of Us were all in town at the same time.

The memory that comes to mind with this song takes place in the backseat of one of my friends’ cars. The Six of Us have just finished our annual Christmas dinner and are headed in 2 cars to our favorite local bar for drinks. All I Want For Christmas Is You comes on and we blast it and sing at the top of our lungs. I feel so happy to have such wonderful friends.

That Spirit of Christmas – Ray Charles

For anyone who has read my other blog posts, you know my family and I are partial to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It is hilarious and the members of my family quote it year-round.

The scene of the movie when this song plays is associated with one of my favorite memories of my dad. In the movie, Clark is stuck in the freezing attic while his family goes Christmas shopping without him. To kill time, Clark discovers some old home movies and watches them on his projector. The Ray Charles song plays and we see old footage of Clark’s childhood memories of growing up in the 1950’s.

This scene in the movie always touched my dad. In my memories, Dad starts by saying how much he loves the song. He begins quietly whistling the song through his teeth. Then, as he watches the black and white home movie footage, his demeanor changes. If you watch him closely, you can almost see him placing his little boy self into these movies and reminiscing about celebrating Christmas with his gigantic family in the 1950’s. He smiles and sighs as the camera pans around the Christmas party on the home movie. Tears brim in his eyes and just as they are about to stream down his cheeks, Clark falls through the attic door. My dad erupts into laughter and all sentimentality fades.

White Christmas – Bing Crosby

Watching the movie White Christmas is our family’s Christmas Eve tradition. We have done this as long as I can remember and I plan to carry on the tradition with my little family.

When I think of White Christmas, I picture my mom and her sister, my Aunt Sissy, singing “Sisters” and dancing around the living room pretending to bat at each other with large feathered fans. I can hear the sound of my own hysterical laughter drowning out the lyrics, “Lord, help the mister who comes between me and my sister…and Lord, help the sister who comes between me and my man!”

I also associate White Christmas with my grandmother, Mimi. Mimi would always travel from Austin, Texas to Florida for Christmas with my grandfather, Poppy. After Poppy passed away, someone – my mom or one of my sisters – would drive to Austin to pick her up and bring her to Christmas at our house. When Pete and I lived in Austin, we would bring Mimi with us. I always enjoyed our long car rides with Mimi, particularly since she would only allow Pete to drive her and I loved listening in on their conversations from the backseat.

I never realized how Mimi made a point to spend a little one-on-one time with each of her grandchildren at Christmas. She always helped Nicole assemble luminaria. She always asked Kara to paint her long, beautiful nails. My favorite thing to do with Mimi at the holidays was sit with her in the morning, drinking coffee and watching the pelicans fish in the bayou behind our house.

I can picture it now… It is Christmas Eve and Mimi is staying up late, helping us wrap presents. My mom puts White Christmas on and we take turns quoting it. Mimi oohs and aahs over how great of a dancer Vera-Ellen was.

Although she’s not here to celebrate Christmas anymore, we will continue to stay up late, wrap presents, and watch White Christmas on Christmas Eve.

My final memory of White Christmas (the song) takes me back to the very early days of my relationship with Pete. We are at my sister’s house in Colorado in the weeks preceding Christmas 2004. Pete and I are standing outside on Nicole’s front balcony. Snow begins to quietly fall and in a sweet, romantic gesture, Pete asks me to dance. As we sway back and forth, he begins to quietly hum White Christmas in my ear. It was then that I knew this would be the man I would one day marry.

The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You) – Nat King Cole

My final and favorite Christmas song is The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You) by Nat King Cole. This song is woven into just about all of my Christmas memories. Christmas morning, complete with stockings, presents and breakfast casserole. Christmas caroling in our neighborhood. Christmas cookie decorating contests. Sitting at the table, playing Balderdash with our sweet friend, Joel, and drinking eggnog. Watching out the window for Mimi and Poppy’s Crown Victoria and wishing the sky would begin sprinkling delicate snow flurries onto our front yard.

These musical impressions don’t even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to my favorite Christmas memories. I hope each and every one of you has a very happy holiday season, full of impressions you may reminisce upon year after year.

Categories: Family, Journal

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