How music enhances the holiday season, stirs memories

It's hard to imagine Christmas without music. For my family, it was an important part of the holiday.

The day after Thanksgiving, my mom would put a stack of albums on the record player, and we would sing along to Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Perry Como, and Dean Martin. Making cookies was easier with Andy singing in the background. Perry's mellow tones were the perfect counterpart to the crushing of gift wrap and the creation of bows. Unfortunately, Dean couldn't help my mother's fruitcake, which was always a bit of a challenge. The bourbon-soaked confection was draped in cheesecloth for days on end, only to emerge as an inedible holiday disaster.

Bing was always the choice for decorating the tree. “The Bells of St. Mary's” was a perfect tune for my sister to hang the tinsel strand by strand. And “Let it Snow” was my preferred accompaniment for taking a wad of tinsel and hurling it across the living room to land wherever it chose. I always thought it gave the tree a more unplanned look, and it drove my sister crazy.

I recall one Christmas when the record player was so loud that the sound reverberated throughout our small Cape Cod-style home. My mom was quite concerned that we had mice because she heard noises in the living room. After setting out traps and not catching a single mouse, we realized that every time “Joy to the World” played on the record player, the tree would drop hundreds of needles on the drumbeat. That was the only time I remember having to put up one tree, take it down and replace it with a new tree before Christmas.

Like many in our church, my mom would bake cookies to take to shut-ins. She would bake hundreds of cookies to share. Fortunately, none of them had to suffer through her fruitcake.

Caroling was a part of life, a way to connect through music with neighbors, friends, and the elderly.

I still enjoy caroling and was able to join members from Batavia's PEO chapters for a carol sing at The Holmstad, a retirement community in Batavia. Before meeting at the Town Center, a small group headed over to the Harry Ekstam Memory Care Center to sing carols for Betty Morehead, one of Batavia's beloved seniors, who along with her daughter, Becky Hoag, started the Books Between Bites program in Batavia.

“I'm not a singer, but caroling took me back to my childhood,” said caroler Marge Brown. “Not only was it fun to share the music, but it was so rewarding to see how much Betty enjoyed it.”

Morehead's daughter Becky agreed.

“It brought tears to see Mom smiling and singing along,” said Hoag. “I think we are all so busy with obligations, holiday things, life things. After all the decorating and baking, Christmas goes by so fast. Caroling is a happy memory to stick with us.”

Some of you will pack Christmas away on Dec. 26. Others will continue the celebration to Twelfth night in January. Either way, I hope you will take the time to enjoy the music and remember the traditions of your childhood, especially singing together for the joy of others.

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