My recommendations for the holidays

Blogging will be more sporadic over the holidays as I will be together with my children and their significant others. Now that they are older and living independent lives elsewhere, these times together are few and far between and to be savored. I thought that I would pass on a couple of personal recommendations. Others should feel free to add their own in the comments.

I grew up singing in amateur church-related choirs in Sri Lanka and the big event of the year was the carol service. Don’t get me wrong. My singing talents are at best mediocre and I clung on to my place in the choir by the skin of my teeth, largely due to the fact that I was really conscientious about attending practices and learning the notes. Sheer effort rather than ability was what kept me from being booted off.

Why did I bother? Because many of the old Christmas carols (as distinguished from the more modern Christmas songs) are really good pieces of music with nice harmonies. They are enjoyable to sing and listen to, if you ignore the meaning of the words, which was easier to do with the ones in Latin.

So it was no surprise to me to hear that the punk rock group Bad Religion, although they are not religious as one might have guessed from the band’s name, had put out an album of Christmas songs. In this interview Greg Graffin, frontman and founder of the band, said that he too had sung in choirs as a young boy and found the melodies and harmonies appealing. The group has not tampered with the words or melody but put its own hard rock arrangements, and the extended snippets I heard were pretty good. The interview starts with Hark the Herald Angels Sing and ends (at the 15:15 mark) with What Child is This?

And my annual recommendation for the best Christmas film remains The Ref (1994) starring Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, and Denis Leary and you can see the full film online. Leary plays a burglar on the run in a small affluent suburban town who takes a completely dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas eve while plotting his escape and finds his hands full trying to keep them apart.

For some reason, there seems to be no trailer online, so here’s the opening scene in the marriage counselor’s office that is hilarious.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mano, would you consider increasing the number of links per comment which would trigger moderation? Three shouldn’t be too much, should it?

  2. mnb0 says

    “They are enjoyable to sing and listen to”
    Even as a child I found them somewhat tedious to listen to, but yes, as I have been a member of a child’s church choir I know how enjoyable they are to sing.
    But this year I plan to listen to a few opera’s. It has been to long and those two days are perfect occasions. Since several years I spend the two christmas days alone and perfectly enjoy it. Having a muslima female counterpart (who dislikes opera) has its advantages; no social pressure.

  3. chezjake says

    “Chariots,” a modern carol written in the 1990’s by John Kirkpatrick, sounds quite traditional and is definitely one of the most joyous and upbeat (and anti-war) carols ever while offering great opportunities for harmony. It is also know affectionately as “The Carol of the Alliteration,” and deserves wider recognition.

  4. says

    Wednesday is just another day. I’ll be working, and am looking forward to it, not bored out of my mind with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It’s nice to live in a country where christians are such a small minority that I can have conversations like this:

    Foreign co-worker: “Do you know of any church services for christmas?”
    Me: “I’m an atheist.”
    Foreign co-worker: “Oh…!”

    Not “Oh!” like “Oh, okay,” but more like “Oh…I…didn’t expect that.”

    Some Canadian humour from 1975:

  5. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony gives you the music without the words. Problem solved,

  6. Ken Baker says

    I know it’s low-brow but for my holiday movie enjoyment it’s hard to beat “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” although now I can’t remember if it was Christmas or Thanksgiving in the movie.

    I agree with Mano regarding Christmas music. Some of those old traditional Christmas tunes are truly wonderful music. I also like some of the semi-modern songs like “Dreaming of a White Christmas”, “Christmastime in the City”, others like that. But if I hear Frosty the damn Snowman one more time, or Jinglebell Rock for Christ’s sake, I just might a very stern expression on my face.

  7. says

    Before clicking on the link, NSFW! One of my favorite Christmas songs of all times is this piece by the Pogues (so, yeah, like I said, NSFW). I think it captures best the real feeling of the holiday season. We’re young and have big dreams, savoring the optimism in the air, but then we become disappointed with the reality that life, in general, sucks. We’re fragile creatures in a harsh universe and every other life form wants to eat us, either literally or financially. But then we embrace the knowledge that life sucks and realize it’s our invention of love that makes life stop sucking and become that Wonderful Life promised in our youth. The holiday season, I think this song argues, is about loving our family for who they are, and loving them because they love us, and that love’s a rare thing.

  8. funknjunk says

    Joe Pass’ 6-string Santa is wonderful … one of those guys who just played great lines all the time. If you like jazz ….

  9. Tadas says

    I used to sing in the church choir for a few years and genuinely enjoyed it. Some of the songs are truly beautiful. In fact, I look forward to midnight mass and hearing the music in the dim candle light. Aside from the religious messages, it’s quite nice. I wish there were links on youtube to some of the original Lithuanian songs, but I couldn’t find any. Oh well. A non-Lithuanian favorite song of mine is Gesu Bambino (the duet).

  10. Reptile Dysfunction says

    Very late to the party, but those who followed the link to the Bad Religion interview
    might be interested in Graffin’s book (written with science writer Steve Olson) Anarchy
    Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God
    . The title (ahem)
    says it all. Also wanted to put in a word for the Christmas carols written by Alfred Burt, an
    orchestral trumpeter (AIR) who wrote them for his family to sing back during the 1950s. They
    are unironically religious & somewhat challenging to sing, but IMO a good addition to the
    repertoire of any carolling group.

  11. lpetrich says

    If there’s any traditional Xmas song I’d recommend, it’s O Tannenbaum, literally “O Fir Tree”, usually translated “O Christmas Tree”. A celebration of how this conifer keeps its leaves even in wintertime. So if you ever wonder why conifers as Xmas trees, that’s it.

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