You know, no one ever called out Gene Autry, one of the kings of the singing cowboys, for saying “Happy Holidays.” Everyday between Black Friday and Christmas Eve, from the year I was born until a couple of years after I left high school, my mother played this album. In our house, we had one of those big console “hi fi” systems from the 1960’s that could play hours of vinyl with the old style record changers. Most of the year, the sounds of Johnny Cash, an Eddie Arnold box set, and Loretta Lynn would emanate from it. Eventually, I was able to slip in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, The Beatles, and those cheesey K-Tel collections everyone used to buy in the days before mix tapes, burning CD’s, and iTunes.
But every Christmas season, mom owned the stereo. And every Christmas season, the day’s music started off with Gene Autry singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” There were a couple other albums she would play, but this is the one I remembered best. Long before Christmas became about Black Friday, fighting over which relatives I would spend Christmas with, and just a generally depressing time of the year for me (which is not the case right now), Gene Autry was the sound of Christmas. Gene Autry was fun.
I only remember a few of the songs off that album, mainly “Rudolph” (Duh!), “Up on the Rooftop,” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” I did find it odd we had very little religious music that time of year. I came from a religious household, one that wasn’t particularly materialistic, and yet all the songs on that big ol’ Philco were about Santa Claus. The exception was Tennessee Ernie Ford album that included “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
And what about Christmas Eve? We weren’t big church-goers on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We also lived in duplexes for most of my childhood. Which, like a lot of duplex and apartment dwelling kids, led to the question “How does Santa get in the house when we don’t have a chimney?” When I was really young, like before my oldest brother was born, mom would come into my room while my dad went into the living room. She’d say, “Wake up. Daddy’s letting Santa in with the presents.” But, of course, I wasn’t allowed to see him. It’d spook the reindeer.
Nita came up with an even better Christmas ritual when AJ was very young. She would take AJ outside to sprinkle glittered oatmeal on the snow so the reindeer could find the house. Then Santa would get in the house with a magic key. I missed out on that, but it sort of put the magic back into Christmas for me when she told me that.
So Christmas has become special again. I think it’s because Christmas since I married Nita has been an intimate holiday. The tree stays lit all night. We give each other pajamas every year, then spend the day wearing them. It’s just Nita and AJ and me. I call my brothers, and we have a party with Nita’s family earlier in December. Too bad that album disappeared long before my parents moved to Amish country. Might be fun to hear Gene Autry again.
Especially when it clashes with our Foo Fighter-loving taste in music.