I’ve chronicled here before those sobering moments when I recognize flashes of my mother in myself, but the truth is I’ve always had a bit of my mom in me. One’s mother half is never purely a byproduct of growing up. Some aspects are just innate. Of the ways I am like my mother, the one that is possibly the most pronounced, is our shared holiday enthusiasm. I’m not just talking about Christmas here–although we’ll get to that later. No, growing up in the Bitterly household meant that the family calendar was always filled with celebrations from anywhere and everywhere. We’ve celebrated everything from Day of the Dead to Hanukkah despite being neither Mexican nor Jewish. I even wrote one of my college application essays about my deep love for Halloween (shockingly, I was accepted).
But above all Christmas is where the Bitterly family’s flair for festive celebrations truly shines. I grew up putting my shoes outside my door on December 5th, so St. Nicholas could fill them in the night. My sisters and I alternated years wearing the family candle-wreath in our hair to mark St. Lucy Day. We even extend the Christmas celebrations beyond the 25th to observe Three Kings Day on January 6th.
You’d think kicking off the Christmas festivities immediately following Thanksgiving would be early enough for my mom, but no. Each year she’d bring out the Christmas music earlier and earlier. We’d be getting ready to pass out Halloween candy to trick or treaters, and she’d have some rendition of ‘Deck the Halls’ playing in the background. Despite a shared love of the Christmas spirit, my teenage self firmly protested blurring seasonal celebrations. Absolutely no Christmas music before Thanksgiving.
Well, those days are officially done. Maybe it’s because no one is filling my shoes on December 6th or putting a candle-wreath on my head come December 13th, but I now have a ‘tis the season’ attitude towards my music selections year-round. Mind you, I’m not walking down the block with a boombox blaring carols Say Anything style. I’m not an animal; I still have some boundaries and respect for separating the seasons. Instead, I reserve those Santa-referencing songs for solo runs. The holiday cheer puts a little spring in my stride. So, if you catch me running along the West Side Highway with a smile on my face, now you know why. Check out my Christmas in July playlist below.
‘What Christmas Means to Me’ by Stevie Wonder.
Want to know a surefire way to make me dance? Put Stevie Wonder on. ‘Sir Duke,’ ‘For Once in My Life,’ ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’ all get my feet going. This Christmas classic is no exception. It doesn’t get as much play as other holiday hits, which is why I feel the need to put it in heavy rotation on my iPod to give it the credit it’s due. I guarantee that listening to this song will stir up some serious Christmas cheer, even on a hot July day.
‘Sleigh Ride’ by The Boston Pops.
I was in the high school band. I can admit it. Although I actually enjoyed playing the flute, I endured a polyester marching band uniform and concert band rehearsals mainly because I thought it would look good on my college application. There was a brief moment every year, though, when I absolutely loved band, and that was when we would close our annual Christmas concert with ‘Sleigh Ride.’ That part when it gets jazzy towards the end is just so good. I can’t bare to listen to any version with lyrics, because it completely ruins that part. Instrumental only. While I haven’t dusted off my flute to give the song a try in nearly a decade, I think my fingers might still remember the notes. Nerd muscle memory.
‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues.
I don’t really consider this song a Christmas carol, but I guess the frequent mentions of the holiday make it technically one. A few years ago I saw The Pogues perform this song live at a St. Patrick’s Day concert, during which some drunk girl yanked my ponytail hard. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to starting a brawl. The song still makes me feel a little feisty, which maybe isn’t exactly embodying the Christmas spirit, but it does quicken my pace.
‘Must Be Santa’ by Bob Dylan.
The fact that I even bought this entire album is a sign that I am becoming more and more like my mother. My mom indiscriminately buys Christmas music. If the fourth runner-up to American Idol released a holiday album, my mom would immediately purchase it from iTunes. In a very mom move, I didn’t even sample any of the tracks before downloading this album. I love Bob Dylan, but a Christmas album was a slightly unexpected move. In my opinion, this song is the album standout. The whole thing is pretty bizarre, but also awesome in its strangeness. The accompanying music video’s final image of Santa and Bob exchanging odd glances will forever play in my head when I listen to this song. I don’t know if I find it haunting or hilarious.
‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey.
The crown jewel in any proper Christmas playlist. Of all the songs on this list, this is the one I play most regularly. When I do, I often have a small, self-loathing thought that I’m no longer making it special, that I will tire of it. It hasn’t happened. The Mariah on this song is the only way I ever want to remember her. The Mariah who hadn’t yet named her child after a room in her house/a nationality. This song is too good to only be reserved for the month of December.
Image via here.