I love Christmas music. There's nothing quite like the strains of "Sleigh Ride" to get me into a Christmasy spirit. For as long as I can remember, my parents have played "Sleigh Ride" along with a handful of other tunes from their collection at Christmas when we decorate the tree.
Hence, hearing the sounds of the song, as recorded by the Boston Pops, with the nifty trumpet horse neigh, is like a bell going off in my head. A cue for the season.
During this holiday season, the Gap has begun airing a series of ads, in their go-go theme, set to a combo of "Sleigh Ride" and "Ice Ice Baby." While not overly effective at making me run out to buy clothes at the Gap, these commercials are very effective at boosting my mood and making me laugh.
The year that I was ten, we put the Christmas tree up in the "loft" a balconied space above the sunken dining room. The year before, we'd had an enormous 20ft. tree in the dining room proper. Dad forgot to tie it up before we had dinner, and it fell, taking part of the antique crystal chandelier with it. For Christmas 1984, we had a much more reasonable sized tree, and Mom moved the piano to put the tree on the balcony in its place. This is where Boris was waiting for us on Christmas Day, all 6-plus feet of him.
At school we learned a plethora of songs, some about Pere Noel, some about Saint Nicolas and we sang in the afternoons leading up to Christmas break. Some of the words to some of the songs have stayed with me, others have disappeared into the fog of my memory. We each had a notebook full of these songs. My mother kept the notebooks for years. When I was a teenager, I counselled at a French camp one summer and brought the notebooks in for the camp leaders to take a look at, to see if they could use any of the materials. I never got the books back between one thing and another, so I can't even look them up anymore.
Each book had hole-punched sheets in it, held by wire clips. The sheets were handwritten and decorated with seasonal drawings by the teacher. She would either carbon-copy or mimeograph the sheets to make multiples to pass out in class -- until the school got its first Xerox machine sometime around the middle of 1983.
I also loved to sing at the Christmas service at church -- photocopied handouts were passed around, with reams and reams of carols. The church was packed to the gills with people sitting, standing and singing their hearts out. While packed in like a little sardine between a tall man, my brothers and some other kids standing along the walls of the church one year, I fell in love with the tunes of "Away in a Manger" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
My mother bought a tape of American carols in 1983 that became a personal favorite of mine. I listened to the rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on that tape, over and over again and danced my version of a folk dance in the kitchen with a russet colored plaid blanket tied around my waist.
Now-a-days I like to sing any Christmas music I can get my hands on, in Latin, German, French or English. "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) is my favorite.
But I can still hear dimly the sound of childish voices, singing for presents to St. Nicolas and Pere Noel while sitting around the square of tables in my third and fourth grade classrooms: