Situated comfortably between the age of childlike wonderment and the age of no children at all, my feelings toward this particular holiday season have been incredibly indifferent. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t appreciate the time out of the office and the abundance of sporting events showcased during the week, but the holiday itself has carried little to no meaning for me whatsoever.
But in all of my holiday apathy, there is one thing that I cannot escape—the music.
The music birthed out of this time of year is unparalleled. It has served as the inspirational catalyst to a cavalcade of sounds. With such a breadth of recordings highlighting the season, the mood ranges from the joyous (“Jingle Bells”) and celebratory (“Hallelujah Chorus”) to the elegant (“What Child Is This”) and reserved (“Silent Night”).
More than not, however, most of the compositions that comprise the late days of December come from the traditional songbook of yesteryear. What I’ve found most engaging are those songs seemingly original in both form and in prose. I remember being first introduced to Prince’s “Another Lonely Christmas,” a song whose explicit lyricism (“Remember the time we swam naked in your father’s pool…”) and aggressive guitar gesturing shattered my entire understanding of what a holiday song was supposed to be. It was secular in nature and anything but traditional. It moved me to think outside of the box, whilst reaffirming my belief that the most stirring melodies were meant for Christmas Eve.
Now I could list a million and one songs with the exact same game changing brilliance of that 1984 record by Prince, but at the very end of the day we all know that it goes back to Donny. No matter who you are, what you believe, or how you’re feeling this holiday season, you know that “This Christmas” will always make it just a little bit better. Donny Hathaway’s voice is, perhaps, the most evoking of all those we consider great. When he cries, we cry. And when he smiles, so do we. This is what we get from the season’s most endearing composition. “This Christmas” is the definition of soul music. It has all the basic musical tenets, of course. But, above all, it demands a response. It is convincingly upbeat and cheerful to such a degree that all those in earshot can’t help but feel a certain warmth amidst the cold winter chill.
While my holiday experience may be the summation of the necessary holiday specials and a few assorted gift cards, I’ve always got the music. However, you choose to spend your season, I suggest you spend it with a little Donny Hathaway.