Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

by Thomas Durkin

Ah! The smells and sounds of Christmas. Someone stoking the flames of your television fireplace. Hanging the mistletoe and placing the star atop the tree. Warming your belly with spiked eggnog. And let’s not forget the music. Face it, picking the right Christmas music is a daunting task. No one wants to ruin Christmas because of their poor selection of jingles on the hi-fi. That’s why I’ve created the definitive, 10-track Christmas record. So here goes.


“Christmas in Jail” by The Youngsters. Always smart to begin with a song about the dangers of overindulging in the Christmas “spirits.” Check dad’s coffee for Irish creme and steer Aunt Sally away from the punch. Otherwise, we’re in for a long holiday season.


“Mele Kalikimaka” by Poi Dog Pondering. I often pity those who live in warm climates and miss out on a white Christmas. But, when the white becomes gray slush, I long for a sunny beach and one of those umbrella drinks. Mele Kalikimaka, a traditional Hawaiian Christmas greeting, transports you to that paradise.


“The Hanukkah Song” by Adam Sandler. Sure Sandler’s gotten as much mileage out of this tune as Jared’s gotten out of his walks to Subway, but the original version of this song is pretty darned funny. Plus, it’s a good reminder that Christmas isn’t the only holiday being celebrated.


“Winterlude’ by Bob Dylan. Fine, I’ll confess. I’m a huge Dylan fan and would find a way to include him on any music compilation. Slow and charming, this is a simple (guilty) pleasure. Plus, it’s cool to hear Dylan sing the refrain, “Winterlude, this dude thinks you’re fine.”


“It Must’ve Been Old Santa” by Harry Connick, Jr. Love him or hate him, Harry Connick is one talented musician. Clap your hands and keep rhythm with your feet because this song has a great beat and entertaining lyrics filled with the exciting prospect of a visit from Santa Claus.


“People Get Ready” by Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Phoebe Snow. Heck yeah, this is a Christmas song. If any song on this list embodies the Christmas spirit, it’s this one. And Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a popular South African a cappella band, and Phoebe Snow kick some serious musical ass.


“Mambo Santa” by The Enchanters. Makes me want to grab my baby and dance under the mistletoe. Who doesn’t like to mambo? Anybody can do it, so feel confident when putting this one onto your Christmas compilation. You can thank me later.


“Jingle Bell Jamboree” by Keb’ Mo’. Keb’ Mo’ sounds like Christmas to me. Makes me feel like a little kid visiting Santa at the mall and asking for gifts I knew wouldn’t come, but I still trusted the man. Turn your couch towards the window and watch the snow falling while Keb’ Mo’ serenades you and yours.


“The Night Before Christmas” by Louis Armstrong. The great Louie B. Armstrong narrates this popular Christmas tale. Talk about impressive. Should be No. 1 on the list, but loses fractional points because it’s a spoken word performance. But what a performance it is. Say it again, Satchmo.


“Mary Had a Baby” by Bruce Cockburn. Grab the kids, spike the punch, and join the chorus. This groovy little ditty is easy to follow and fun to sing along with. My advice: put this song on and take your holiday photos while everyone’s happy. Past experience should indicate that this could be your only chance. Enjoy the music and have some happy holidays. Many thanks to John Reiss, Milwaukee’s Chef of the Year. These gems were mined from Christmas compilations John creates each year for his family and friends.