Quick Christmas Nuggets
by Kristin Battestella
These comforting holiday favorites are easy, fast, and friendly for one and all fireside, trimming the tree, or at the festive party.
Enya Christmas Secrets – There are only four songs on this 2006 EP from everyone's perennial New Age Irish fave. “Adeste Fideles” opens with the ancient voice and instruments expected, however the echoing production elevates the simplicity with a modern but no less reverent lofty. Immediately there's a feeling of nighttime, earth at this dark and frosty but wondrous time thanks to the fairies and angels coming out to play in “The Magic of the Night.” Likewise “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” provides a pleasant pace as the overlays build with each verse and merriment, contrasting the melancholy sentiments of “Christmas Secrets” – bittersweet with chilly, lonely lyrics of trains, winter, moonlight, and blues. Of course, there's also a Target edition called Sounds of the Season with Enya that includes the wintry mystical of “Amid the Falling Snow” and a foreign, ethereal yet timelessly familiar “Oíche Chiúin Silent Night.” On its own, the short fifteen minutes here would get tedious over and over at the office, for sure. Fortunately, this hypnotic holiday sway mingles perfectly in an effortless December playlist, and the yuletide non-religious originals can be repeated all winter long.
The Nutcracker – You know you know the one I mean. To those of us of a certain age, this 1977 CBS television presentation of the American Ballet Theatre's production starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland is the definitive Tchaikovsky viewing – an annual seventy-eight minute spectacle that seems longer than it really is thanks to all those PBS telethon airings. Granted the innate videotape production, seventies period-esque meets ballet costumes, over the top silly boys, stick horses, cardboard sets, fake Christmas presents, and laughable mouse king masks look dated now. Ironically, this was Emmy nominated in its day thanks to that growing giant Christmas tree, careful spotlighting schemes, and not so special overlay effects captured by multiple camera angles wide or up close amid deliberate staging, complex ballet choreography, and dramatic action. It's all really still epic in its own way, for it's amazing they can fit as many dancers, magical backdrops, and sword fights on the stage as they do – strategically making the area small for a lone ballerina and candle or cleared for the sweeping leaps, battements, and jetés from the company. It's always a treat to see real dancers who are actually en pointe! A lighthearted narration fills in the story as that wonderful Tchaikovsky music brings familiar notes of the season in a strong, multi-layered yet effortlessly airy accompaniment to the performances of course including The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, The Waltz of the Flowers, Spanish Chocolate, Chinese Tea, and The Dance of the Clowns. This is a magical audio/visual tale where its easy to root for the heroes and their sense of awe. Perhaps there are some slightly ominous notes or even a few scary moments for super young audiences – the broken nutcracker doll alone! – but any Drosselmeyer apprehension is quickly alleviated with fairyland charm, toys come to life, snowflakes, sweets, and dreamy adventures. Despite the excised Arabian Dance and overly dramatic facial expressions necessary for the stage but over the top for television, the pleasant waltzes and wintry magic make for a captivating and essential delight for young and old.
Perry Como Greatest Christmas Songs – This 1999 twenty-one track session is totally different from Christmas with Perry Como, Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music, and The Perry Como Christmas Album. However, it does repeat the perennial essentials “Home for the Holidays,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” “The Christmas Song,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “White Christmas” from Season's Greetings from Perry Como. Whew! Fortunately, background singers, festive bells, and whimsical arrangements accent yet more nonchalant secular favorites such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” and “There's No Christmas Like a Home Christmas.” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Twelve Days of Christmas,” “Love is a Christmas Rose,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” provide more nostalgic silliness while the tender reminder “Christmas Bells,” adoring “Christ is Born” and mellow “Some Children See Him” provide slightly obscure reverence. Familiar carols are here, too, with “Do You Hear What I Hear,” “O Holy Night,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and a superb “Ave Maria” finale. Mr. C fans can certainly stream their favorites here thanks to over an hour of instant holiday coziness.