The kids were toddlers, and money was tight. The TV ad promised hours of holiday fun with the “Disney Christmas” LP; I must have seen the ad a dozen times before I dared to give it much thought. With shipping, that album was going to come in at about $17. I had to think twice about spending that much, and Christmas was still months away. Finally, on a September afternoon, I picked up the phone and dialed the 800 number.
The package arrived just before Halloween.
Starting that year, I resolved that my children would learn the Christmas carols that I loved. They would learn all the words to all the verses of all the songs. The best way to accomplish that goal was to play Christmas music – and only Christmas music – from Halloween right through the big day.
“Disney Christmas” got us started, with 30 songs sung in familiar cartoon character voices. For back-up, I had Bing Crosby and The Ray Conniff Singers.
And so we listened and we sang. Jingle Bells. Up On The Housetop. Away In A Manger. From the time that my children could speak, they learned to sing the songs of Christmas.
“Christmas music only” became a post-Halloween tradition in our house. I never really told anyone, never announced it at the dinner table, never made it a decree. But my collection of Christmas music expanded to include medieval chants, Percy Faith instrumentals, and Fat Bob The Singing Plumber. On November 1, those albums took a place of honor next to the turntable and the rest of our music collection was tucked away until January. Eric Clapton, Carly Simon, and The Who took a break, so to speak.
The collection of LPs gave way to cassettes, then to CDs. Hallmark rolled out a collection of Christmas music, and Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte joined our lineup. I pushed the “play” button as soon as we got home every afternoon; somehow, Christmas songs weren’t a distraction as the kids grew and we tackled homework after dinner. We sang in the car on the way to the grocery store, the mall, or a doctor’s appointment. We knew all Twelve Days of Christmas and never ever confused the pipers piping with the lords a leaping.
My children did, indeed, learn all the words. Granted, it’s probably not the most important lesson they learned by virtue of being mine. But I believe to this day that they could pull up the second verse of “Silent Night” or the chorus of “Do You Hear What I Hear” almost instinctively.
There’s a certain satisfaction in that, and more than a little sentimentality too.