Week 137: “Christmas Song” by Mogwai

There were certain things I could always count on during the Christmas season when I was a kid:

Consistent decorations. We’d hang the same decorations in the same parts of the living room every year. Sure, my brother and I would take turns being “in charge” of decorating each year, but you weren’t about to hang the star from the back of the rocking chair, or give the Christmas tree penthouse suite to a dream-catcher.  No matter what had happened over the course of the year, the living room always looked exactly the same on December 25th, and that was a good thing.

Sensible presents. My Christmas wish lists were carefully prioritized. But because my parents were too smart to be taken in by advertising, I knew that the real list started at number 3 or 4. I fully realized there was no way they would buy sneakers that cost more than a month’s mortgage payment, or a shirt that changed colour when you touched it. But I had to include those things on the list, just in case. You gotta have hope.

Family dinners. Most of my family lived on the other side of the ocean, so these weren’t huge affairs, but the tradition was consistent; my aunt would spend dinner talking about jewelry, my grandmother would mistakenly use the pepper grinder as a salt shaker, and my brother and I would quietly wait until a break in the conversation before politely asking if we could play with our new toys.

Movies. The older we got, the less often we all watched movies together. Our tastes in movies suffered a significant generation gap. My brother and I were generally into horror movies and anything with lots of farting in it. Meanwhile, my parents’ main source of movies was the public library, so unless we felt like watching a 1954 documentary about the history of obscure card games, we would rarely join them. Christmas was different, though. We’d always watch two classics: “A Christmas Carol”, and “A Christmas Story”. Every year we’d laugh at the same jokes as if we’d never seen the movie before, and I remember anticipating the jokes by watching my parents’ faces just before the funny moment happened, because I liked watching their faces light up with laughter.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The repeated line of the opening piano sounds like slow-motion church bells on Christmas morning.

2. The synthesized strings, sitting way in the background beginning around 1:00, sound like a far-off choir singing “Silent Night”.

3. The gradually fading-in brushes on the snare drum, first audible just after 1:30, sound like a locomotive puffing into a snowy town in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Recommended listening activity:

Reviving a tradition.

Buy it here.