Never a Christmas Without Music

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It just happens that one of my favourite bloggers out there is a former neighbour of mine. Kirsten Nilsen of Nilsen Life lived one door over in our  college dorm – a re-purposed Jacobean mansion in the Berkshire foothills of England. It’s not just because I know her that I’m a dedicated follower of her blog. Kirsten has a way of choosing topics and ordering words that invariably leaves me wishing that I had said exactly what she did, in exactly the same way. And so The Pear Tree is elated to bring Kirsten over for a guest post on Christmas memories. Check out Nilsen Life for more of her missives.

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I was an impoverished newlywed graduate student, full of romantic ideas about my first married Christmas. I had made salt-dough ornaments for our tiny tree, and strung my own popcorn to camouflage the lack of lights. I’d potato-stamped Christmas shapes on brown craft paper for holiday cards. The single gift I had for my gorgeous husband was a paperback copy of O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi, and as I wrapped it I found myself sighing over the fact that my mousy blonde hair would never create the income for Christmas shopping.

I was happy with the simple Christmas I’d made in our tiny walk-up flat. But there was no music.

My childhood years were formed around memories of music – especially at Christmas. Choral music, brass quartets, even good ol’ Nat & Dean – our home was always filled with music. So when it came to making my own holiday, I couldn’t imagine a silent season. But certainly there wasn’t any room in the budget for fancy recordings of Handel – this was in the Old Days before downloadable MP3s, and we were still playing mix tapes on my boom box from college.

One day in mid-December I stumbled across a trader selling stacks of CDs on a folding table. I bypassed his bootleg CDs of Oasis and Blur, and went straight for a pile of holiday music. In the midst of the pile was a collection the most traditional classics: O Holy Night, God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, and The Holly and the Ivy.  But I was stopped in my tracks by the  £5 price tag.

I went home, thinking about whether I could brave the season with just listening to George Michael crooning Last Christmas on the radio. I called a Financial Summit to see if our budget would bear the expenditure. We decided it could.

And thus began the Nilsen Christmas CD Collection. Each December we’ve made a point of finding another Christmas CD (or two, or three!) to add to our collection. We are completely eclectic in our tastes – the music runs the spectrum from Raffi to Elvis to Mickey Mouse to John Rutter. For you diehard chorale fans out there, last year we discovered Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax.

Our own home is filled with music for all of December, and the kids have come to expect a little danceathon when Harry Connick’s Jr.’s The Christmas Elf comes on, and laugh uproariously when Mommy sings along with Pearl Bailey’s Five Pound Box of Money.  My second grader is currently in love with Straight No Chaser, an a capella group, and belts our their tune Indiana with the best of the tenors.

Holiday music is a joy that can be accessed by any age, and any budget. When things get a little hairy in this run-up to Christmas, take a few minutes out to croon along with Bing.

– Words by Kirsten Nilsen

– Photos by Lori-Anne Poirier

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