At this time of year, we revisit the Christmas classics from centuries past. A Christmas Carol (1843). The Dead, James Joyce’s haunting holiday tale at the end of Dubliners (1914). The film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). For music, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (1942) is a holiday classic, as is Tchaikovsky’s ballet score for The Nutcracker Suite (1892).
Religious music is extensive, from Baptist choirs to monastic hymns. We like to stream the remarkable Latin vocal works by the English Renaissance composer William Byrd (1543-1623). As a practicing Catholic at a time when anyone deviating from the official Anglican faith was subject to persecution and worse, Byrd expressed his devotion through music. You can hear a sample from this 1977 recording, "Byrd Mass for Four and Five voices" Christ Church Cathedral Oxford":
Whether song or story, these works at first may not seem suited to the spirit of Christmas. The music often strikes a melancholy chord. The stories on the page, screen, or stage often begin with character flaws or uncertainty about the future.
Consider the introductory paragraphs of A Christmas Carol. It starts with an account of a funeral! Then we learn about the twisted protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge:
The reader shortly learns that Ebenezer's single-minded goal is to make as much money as possible, no matter the cost to the other people around him.
Yet A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption and finding hope and humanity even in the most unlikely of characters. The many other stories, films, and musical works each have uplifting moments that resonate especially at this time of year.
Whatever holiday tradition you observe, take the time to celebrate traditions and connect with family ... and enjoy those classic works that have meaning for you.