Latest Essays

Album Cover for the Pink Martini album Joy to the World

The Little Drummer Boy

This is an odd little song, but an undeniable Christmas favorite. It was written in 1941 by the American classical composer Katherine Kennicott Davis, and was said to be based on a traditional Czech carol. Davis' interest in writing the song was to produce something that could be sung by amateur and girls' choirs. The original title was "Carol of the Drum."
Album Cover for Holidays Rule

Auld Lang Syne

Although this isn't strictly a Christmas song, its use in the closing scene of It's A Wonderful Life qualifies it as one in my book. And, in any case, it expresses a wonderful sentiment entirely appropriate to the holidays.
Album Cover for Live at Luther College

Christmas Song by Dave Matthews

Like Robbie Robertson and The Band, Dave Matthews seeks here to craft a retelling of the story of Jesus that might cause us to look at this old tale from a fresh perspective, and consider anew its core meaning. This retelling is a bit more ambitious than Robertson's. Like Jackson Browne, Matthews is not an avowed Christian, and yet he finds deep meaning in this story.
Album Cover for To Kingdom Come

Christmas Must Be Tonight

I've always loved this Christmas song from The Band.

There's nothing terribly fancy or ambitious about it. Robbie Robertson just recounts the story of Christmas, of the birth of Jesus, in a series of familiar scenes, using simple and straightforward language.

Come down to the manger, see the little stranger,
Wrapped in swaddling clothes, the prince of peace.
Wheels start turning, torches start burning,
And the old wise men journey from the East.

Album Cover for a Putamaya Christmas

Christmas Bells

On Christmas day in 1863 American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow's words from this poem have been set to music by a number of different composers and performers, starting as early as 1872. There are a number of contemporary recordings based on this poem, but the one with which I am particularly taken is a rather obscure track by John Gorka. The music here is Gorka's, and doesn't seem to share anything with other musical renditions of the poem. Gorka dropped three of the stanzas, including those most directly referencing the Civil War, leaving him with four verses for his song.
Blue Yule album cover

Please Come Home for Christmas

If Christmas is supposed to return us to home and family, then of course songs will be written about those who are still left yearning for a reunion with loved ones during the holiday season. Charles Brown helped to give us the joyful “Merry Christmas Baby,” but he also first delivered, and co-wrote, the plaintive appeal found in “Please Come Home for Christmas.”