Saturday, December 11, 2021

Holiday music evokes memories...

Written by Jim Heffernan for the Duluth News Tribune/Saturday, December 11, 2021

I listened to a rendition of “Jingle Bells” in the Baroque style the other day on public radio and it put me in a Christmas mood right away. Holiday music has a way of doing that better than any other Yuletide tradition.


Oh, there’s the beautiful decorations cropping up on houses all over town, the shopping in decorated stores and, of course, here in Duluth we’ve got Bentleyville down there on the waterfront. Very Christmassy, indeed.

But, for me, it’s the holiday music that can send my emotions about Christmas swelling, bringing back memories of Christmases past, and, believe me, I’ve racked up a lot of Christmases past.


Some of the music is enduring, some ephemeral. Both seem to put me in the Christmas mood.

Who can forget the engaging “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (underneath the mistletoe last night)? Well, maybe some have forgotten it, but I haven’t. That’s Christmas to me. How about you? No?

And then there was the plaintive “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” It was sung by the great Jimmy Boyd, who, to the best of my knowledge, got his two front teeth back and never thang another thong. Still, what a sentiment, what a holiday plea. Gulp. That’s Christmas to me too, although I think it might be the one “carol” left unrecorded by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

A bit longer lasting in the pantheon of inspiring Christmas music is “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” (bend your ear this way). Sigh. Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a dolly, Nellie thinks dolls are folly (ahead of her time). What could evoke the holidays more touchingly?

How about “Baby It’s Cold Outside”? It always shows up at this time of the year, although there’s no actual mention of Christmas in the lyrics. That’s OK. If it’s cold outside it must be Christmastime. That’s good enough to put me in a holiday mood. Just like “Walkin’ in the Winter Wonderland”: (“In the meadow we can build a snowman, we’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ we’ll say, ’No, man, but you can have the job when you’re in town.’”) Could that snowman be Frosty?

Oh, my, we can’t forget Rudolph in this compilation of Christmas music to inspire the yuletide spirit. There was no “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in my earliest years. But along he came, shiny nose and all, when I was still a kid, making me feel bad that the other reindeer wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. I have always wondered what kind of games reindeer actually play, but no matter. Puts me in a Christmas mood, that’s for sure.

Just like those “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Everybody knows that ubiquitous holiday ballad performed by so many artists. It simply reeks of holiday spirit, although I have never actually seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and don’t know anyone who has. Marshmallows might have been better. But still, that’s Christmas to so many of us.

How could I organize this compendium of inspiring Christmas music and leave “White Christmas” out? Well, I’m not going to. That song actually came out when I was a child too (yup, I’m that old) and is, perhaps, the most popular Christmas song ever composed in America.

In my youth, I sang in several choirs — church, high school, university — and, of course, they all embraced Christmas as a time to show off their talents. I’ll always remember the words to one of the numbers I’ve joined in singing many times in various choirs. It’s from Handel’s “Messiah” and it goes like this:

“For unto us a child is born, a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”


It has a ring to it, don’t you think? Without that, none of the rest would exist.


Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.


Jim Heffernan is a former Duluth News Tribune news and opinion writer and continues as a columnist. He can be reached at and maintains a blog at

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