I have to confess something. I like Christmas music. I like Christmas music a lot. I have been listening to Christmas music since before Halloween. Christmas music makes me happy. Mom loved Christmas music. She listened to it all year long. Dad issued an edict that Christmas music could only be played after Thanksgiving because he got tired of it. Mom decided it was okay to listen to Christmas music anytime except when Dad was home. She would play her Christmas records loudest while she was cleaning the house. I have over 600 songs on my iTunes Christmas playlist, many of them from albums Mom used to play. Whenever It Came Upon a Midnight Clear from the Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait comes on I feel like a little boy in fizzy pajamas staring at the lights on our family’s Christmas tree. Only the absence of the faint hiss of the record player on my iPod keeps the illusion from consuming me.
Mom counted down the days to Thanksgiving like an inmate waiting for his sentence to end. After the leftover turkey was packaged up and the Tupperware drawer emptied, Christmas music could be played unrestrained. Mom always opened the season with Bing Crosby. How could you not? The morning after Thanksgiving was Christmas Friday in our house. Mom released her inner Macy’s window display decorator and our house exploded with nutcrackers, candy canes, and tinsel. Everything went somewhere different every year. Decorations purchased sometime over the past year made their McBride home debut. It was glorious.
The only times from Thanksgiving to January 2nd (the closing date of our family Christmas season per paternal decree) that the record player wasn’t blaring Christmas music was when the TV was showing a Christmas movie. I have seen them all. I enjoy Christmas movies too, but there is something about Christmas music that is different, something that sets me free.
Maybe I just remember how happy Mom was during that time of year. How she would quote the lines to the Charlie Brown Christmas record with my sister and I. Mom was a dancer in her youth and young adulthood. Dad was not a dancer. I only remember seeing Mom dance as a young child when she would vacuum and mop with spontaneity and exuberance to Jingle Bell Rock and Santa Clause is Coming to Town.
One of the things I have taken with from my childhood into adulthood is a love for Christmas music. Everything from the reverent sacred strains of the Messiah to the ironic and unfairly obscure Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses makes me smile and takes me to a different place. Occasionally, I would listen to Christmas music off-season. Maybe the week of Thanksgiving, or maybe the week after New Year’s, I would sneak a listen to a song or two. The past two years have been among the worst times of my life. I started listening to Christmas music in September of both years. Last year I didn’t give it up until MLK Day. Listening to the music in my car makes me smile. I think about my Mom.
I used to believe listening to Christmas music in June was just a quirk. Now, I think it was a survival mechanism. Mom was loosing her battle with sanity, with life worth living. However, Christmas was her season. Mom lived for the cooking, the decorating, the time together, the religious reflection, the giving, and the living. Christmas music gave her a piece of that feeling all year round. Mom rarely listens to Christmas music now, even during the season.
For the next several months, who knows when I will stop listening to the stuff, whenever I hear Brenda Lee intone Jingle Bell Rock I can picture Mom’s spectacular Kitchen choreography with a squeeze top mop. During my Christmas music season I can still be the little boy listening to It came Upon a Midnight Clear, with fuzzy pajamas laying down with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies watching the colored lights blink on the tree, trying to save my sanity.
 I will be referring to my mother in the past tense not because she is deceased, but because cancer, heart problems, and mental illness have robbed her of her essence and left a shell that only shows a twinkle of her former luster, and then only rarely and fleetingly.