Christmas Countdown – Songs and Carols

Christmastime has some of the best – and most annoying to hear over and over – songs. There’s the ones you sing along to every time you hear them, the ones that haunt you long after they’re over, the ones that make you groan, and the ones that you hum as you wait for your lunch to heat up at work. There’s just so many to choose from, but I’ve managed to limit this list to just my top 10.

  1. Do you Hear What I Hear?: Tons of versus but not nearly as annoying as Little Drummer Boy.
  2. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel: One of those haunting songs that forces me to really focus on the meaning of the holiday. I nearly cried when we sang it at church dinner last week.
  3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: I can never keep the little afterthoughts to myself when I hear it sung.
  4. The First Noel: So, Noel is my middle name so I could either hate this song or love it. I chose the later because it takes far less energy. I just wish the tune were a bit more exciting.
  5. Emanuel (the Amy Grant song): Very 90s Contemporary Christian but that’s probably why I like it so much. I can’t remember the last time I actually heard it without specifically seeking it out though maybe I’m the only one who’s such a fan.
  6. Hark, the Herald Angels Sing: My love of this is simple – it’s really fun to sing all of those Hallelujahs that make up the chorus.
  7. All I Want for Christmas is You (Mariah Carey’s one great hit): Partly because it’s a great song, partly because the role it plays in Love Actually.
  8. Handel’s Messiah – specifically the “He shall be called…wonderful. Counselor. Prince. Of. Peace” movement: You can’t help but get excited when you hear it. It always brings back memories of a particular Christmas pageant at church, when my future eight grade science teacher was one of the wise men and was totally in character as he waited to walk down the left aisle to see the baby Jesus. I tried to say hi to him but he just stood there, stone serious through the entire movement.
  9. Silent Night: Simple tune but powerful lyrics. My parents’ church always sings it as we lit our candles and walked out into the chilly night at the end of Christmas Eve services. It has a special magic that would only break when my brother would suddenly announce it was time to go home so we could open our one gift we got to open early.
  10. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: I’m always a fan of Charles Wesley hymns – it’s like the secret language of Methodists if you can name a few dozen of them – and this one doesn’t disappoint.

Christmas Countdown – The Tree

I may have grown up with artificial trees but we live close enough now to where they actually grow them that we’ve always gotten a real one from some farm up near Matt’s parents’ house. This year is no exception, a lovely fir of some sort from good ‘ole Bud. It arrived on Sunday via my in-laws and we spent a few hours in the afternoon putting the ornaments on.

I’ll show more of the tree later but I’ve got to talk about the ornaments.

We have a lot of ornaments. Matt started collecting them when he was little and, though we’re certainly much pickier about what ornaments we buy now, we still have far too many to go on the tree – four of those ornament boxes plus two other equally sized boxes worth. But, every year, there are a few that must appear on the tree.

There’s the little blue train that was part of the first set Matt’s parents got for him. (At some point his parents got him his own artificial tree to put in his bedroom, complete with rattles and toys as ornaments.)

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There’s the bungee jumping Santa.

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One of the blown-glass ornaments from the Corning Museum of Glass we visited one of the times I went to see him at RIT.

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The ornament my old officemate got us to celebrate Squirms’s birth.

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And, last but not least, the first ornament I bought for Matt, before we were dating.

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Enough of my delaying. Our beautiful tree.

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And the required “baby with the tree” photo that I took yesterday when she, for the first time, had any interest at all in the tree.

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Christmas Countdown – Holiday Movies

There are two main kids of Christmas movie fans: those that like the sappy ones like Miracle on 34th Street or anything made for ABC Family/Hallmark Channel (aka my mother) and people who like movies that feature Christmas but aren’t really about Christmas. I’ll watch the Christmas-focused ones, sure, particularly if I’m not feeling Christmas-y, though I just love the ones that remind me of the feeling of Christmas or about how complicated the holidays are.

So, here’s my top five favorite Christmas movies:

Number 5 – Home Alone

I was exactly the right age when this came out to enjoy the physical comedy and absurd storyline of a kid getting forgotten when his family goes away for the holidays but doesn’t notice until hours later. And my brother looked just like the main character when he was that age.

Number 4 – Diehard

What? It’s a Christmas movie. It’s his wife’s work Christmas party that gets invaded by terrorists. Sure, it’s pretty dated now and the sequels were mostly horrible but the original’s worth re-watching for the action and comedic moments.

Number 3 – The Santa Clause

Okay, probably counts as a “real” Christmas movie as he’s, you know, turning into Santa Clause. I love the elf who explains the contract he agreed to and shows him around the North Pole.

Number 2 – White Christmas

Corny, corny, corny but in a wonderful Hollywood Golden Age of Musicals sort of way. Favorite scene is when the two men re-enact the sisters’ dance and song after they run away from the club. You’ll never get any of the songs they sing out of your head and the long dance sequence makes zero sense but you don’t care at all.

Number 1 – Love Actually

Follows a bunch of different pairs of folks during the five weeks leading up to Christmas as they experience the highs and lows of love in a modern society. They’re all connected to each other, though you don’t find that out until the end (I’m not ruining anything with saying that, I promise). There’s Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson and bunch of other either excellent eye candy or great actors.

So – are you a fan of Christmas movies? Real ones or my style of movies?

Christmas Countdown – Breakfast at the Manger

Our church has a great annual event called Breakfast at the Manger where kids are invited to come and, well, have breakfast at the manger. They bring in donkeys and goats and bunnies from a local petting zoo and the kids can dress up as a wise person, angel, or shepherd (complete with appropriate headwear). Everyone enjoys a simple breakfast of pancakes and juice boxes put together but the grandfather-aged Christ’s Curmudgeons men’s Bible study group. There’s also a formal program where they tell the story of Jesus’s birth and sing songs and some sort of art and craft project going on in another room.

Not having a kid before, this was our first year attending and we really enjoyed ourselves. Squirms was too little to get much out of petting the animals (though we tried multiple times) or craft time or the outfits but we could tell she’s really going to love it in a few years.

I took a ton of photos but most turned out too blurry to be usable. But, hey, whatever. It’s Christmas!

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Christmas Countdown

When I was little, the Christmas season kicked off one of three ways: 1) my brother and I attempting to put together our artificial Christmas tree (real ones are extremely expensive in Florida, or at were when I was a kid) 2) my hometown Christmas parade featuring marching bands with lights on their instruments and lots of folks in Santa hats on the back of pickup trucks or hand-made floats or 3) the Christmas pageant at our church with the craziness of a full orchestra and professional set and lighting design.

Now that I’m an adult, it’s never the same thing. Some years, it’s the first Sunday we light an advent candle at church, the selected family awkwardly reading the liturgy as their eldest child tries not to burn down the church. Others, it’s when we get a tree or put a wreath on the door or get our first Christmas card in the mail. Once I finally feel like it’s really Christmas, the countdown starts in my head (Today’s the 14th – only 11 days until Christmas!) and I let myself listen to the Rockin’ Christmas station on Pandora.

Last year, Christmas came and went in the blur that is the first few weeks of having a newborn. My parents came down for a week, my in-laws stopped by for the big meal, lots of gifts and the usual decorations and lights. I was just too tired and unfocused to enjoy it, though I did get a journal and a scarf from my mom, Matt, and my mother-in-law.

This year, Christmas started the day after Squirms’s birthday party. Church had wreaths that were available from the Boy Scouts (we completely missed any mention of pre-ordering) so we got one and stuck it up on our door. I started the Christmas station while Matt prepared dinner. Later in the week, I got Christmas cards and started hounding people for their addresses. (Our tree arrives tomorrow, via my father-in-law who always buys them from a nice man named Bud up in rural Pennsylvania.)

And, because this is Squirms’s first real Christmas, I am more than a little excited. And you’re going to have to put up with me sharing my excitement because I’m planning to post at least every few days about how we’re counting down to Christmas.

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Squirms even has her Christmas outfit already.