Baby, It’s Cold Outside

December 14, 2013

Neighborhood kids screech wildly in our cul-de-sac, bundled in heavy coats and hats. It’s too cold to be out for long, but the mothers have had it, let me tell you. For at least a few minutes, those kids run, huffing out ghostly bursts of breath.

I’ve got the mulling spices on the stove top, infusing the house with every good smell of the season. I’m waiting for people I love to arrive, and I dig through crates, furiously searching for Christmas music.

Yes, gentle readers, I am one of those dorks who likes Christmas music.

Not Christmas mu-zac, mind you.  I’m choosy about  my tunes–if you play Feliz Navidad or Santa Baby or God forbid, that vomitous Paul McCartney carol, “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas-time,” you’re banned from the premises. But in general, I like a lot of it.

Some if it I downright love, like Karen Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas, Darling,” U2’s soulful, shake-your-moneymaker ditty, “Baby, Please Come Home,” and Joni Mitchell’s haunting “River,” which makes me thick-throated every time I hear it.

I blame my high school choir director for the love of the holiday tunage. Mr. D______ was a mercurial, demanding, piglet of a man, capable of spontaneous bursts of outrage. He could destroy you with one sarcastic lick of his little pug-tongue.

But something happened to him around Christmastime.  His sharp edges wilted and got downright mushy. For one golden month, old Crankybritches was the picture of joviality, and we basked in the transformation.

Our small acapella choir tackled the Christmas season with exhaustive verve; from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, we sang our way through hospitals, elderly care facilities, elementary schools, rehab clinics, high teas at swanky hotels.  We missed a scandalous amount of of school those 4 weeks, but a large number of those performances were on our own time.  We sacrificed weekends, weeknights, early morning opportunities for sleep…all in the name of spreading Christmas cheer.

We froze our asses off in downtown Denver, so thickly bundled against the winter chill that the crowds on the 16th street mall had to strain to hear us.

We danced and trilled around Mr. D.’s country club, charming old ladies in sequins and bedazzled holiday sweaters.  (One year, a sparkly old dowager in pink lipstick swooned over my dance partner Arlie. She stalked us the entire night, trying to figure out if we were a couple. “Dearie, you need to scoop that one up,” she told me. “He looks just like a young Omar Sharif.” Arlie, seated in close proximity, heard the whole business and he slunk down in his velvet-lined chair, hoping to die.)

The best and the hardest performances were at the retirement facilities. Those performances were always packed. Folks of all ages and stages of lucidity crammed into the performance room, squashed into crummy card-table chairs.

Some of them were brightly alert, donned in freshly ironed skirts and snazzy suitjackets. Some sat in corners, eyeing us with open curiosity. Some shifted in their seats impatiently, mumbling at us to “start the Bingo game.”  Some sat stuporous and pajama-clad, eyes glazed over.

When we began to sing, some of them cackled delightedly, tapping their toes along with the music. Some got really carried away and burst forcefully into song, joining us in rickety tenor and shaky soprano. Some of them lost themselves and wept openly, transported to another time and place that had nothing to do with us. It made me feel beautiful and wrecked at the same time.

We couldn’t help but sing our heads off, those nights.

It was a stark reminder of what music can bring to winter hearts, and it was our privilege to be a part of it.

We culminated our weeks of hard labor with a party at Mr. D.____’s home, which was something so special and so weirdo, it boggled the mind.

To gain admittance to a teacher’s home?

To view the curmudgeon in his native habitat?

To sit across a table from him, breaking off snitches of garlic bread, scarfing down his wife’s bubbling homemade lasagna, trading secret Santa gifts among comrades?

It was heady stuff.

The nicest part came after, when we bundled up, bellies full of pasta and companionship, and headed out to carol in Mr. D._____’s neighborhood.

There’s something about a trek through a starry night–the stealthy ringing of strangers’ doors, the turning tide on faces from suspicion to delight.

It felt like magic, and it was.

It’s that remembrance that sends me every year, bustling downstairs and pawing frantically through boxes for my holiday stash. It takes me forever to find the right box; it’s always warrened away in a random corner somewhere, and I always swear that this year, I’ll label the box in bright red Sharpie.

I dust off the covers, squirt the discs with Windex, plop them into the stereo and crank.

I crank and sing in my rusty, slightly off-key alto, sending Minxes and husband scrambling for solace.

For me, that’s when Christmas becomes real.


{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Jamie December 14, 2013 at 11:56 am

Loved this one!!! Your description of the retirement home signing was so spot on. I’m a rusty, off key alto too :)


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me December 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm

I loved this – and I totally get it. I love Christmas music (mine’s been going all day) and that Karen Carpenter is one of my all time favorites!


Kate December 14, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I adore carols. Adore. Family friends have a caroling party every year, it’s one of those fixed points in my childhood, walking in the cold/cool/hot (Texas is unpredictable this time of year) singing loudly to unsuspecting neighbors.
But your story reminded me particular visit to a teacher’s inner sanctum. Fresh back from my first stint at college, a group of friends decided to go sing for our calculus teacher (nerds a little?), and I had the pleasure of telling the sorry son of a (swear jar) that even though he told me I was stupid, I’d aced honors calc at college.
Now. If only I could find my Christmas CDs.


Dana Talusani December 15, 2013 at 11:45 am


Isn’t it nice to get the last word when someone’s a *swearjar* to you? :) Heh.


Pamela December 15, 2013 at 6:14 am

It made me feel beautiful and wrecked at the same time.

Oh yes.

What I live so much about your writing is the way you capture the details so vividly, so perfectly, and at the same time, transform them into a commentary about the terrain of the human heart. As always I am in awe.


Robin December 15, 2013 at 10:44 am

I’m just off key – period. So, I was never asked to join the choir. However, that didn’t stop me from Christmas caroling. Nursing homes and retirement homes are just as you described them. Bringing Christmas to them was always special and sometimes a little awkward.

Christmas music. I have to wait for my daughter’s family to show up. They request it. Bless them! I have a mix of old and new.

A teacher that brings students into his home. That is a lovely thought, that would probably get today’s teachers in trouble.

Loved your story. Merry Christmas Music!!


Dana Talusani December 15, 2013 at 11:47 am


You’re right–today I’m sure they’d look askance at something like that. Even then, I couldn’t believe it. It made us feel pretty special. Bring on the Christmas Tunes!


Dawn December 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Loved this. I played in the band. We did some of that, though in smaller measures, and our band director was also capable of instant outrage. We never got invited to his house though. Still, I like Christmas music…the community band just did our holiday concert last Friday. Audience never seems to get tired of the classics. Band directors never seem to tire of finding something different (ie weird) for us to play.

Hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas!


Jennifer December 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I love Christmas music too, but if I have to listen to Josh Groban croon one more tune this season I may have a seizure. In other words? I need to pull out my collection too.


Sherri December 15, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I’ve been driving around in my dork van listening to Christmas music for a few weeks now. Cheers to you. Keep up the off-key singing!


elizabeth December 15, 2013 at 6:38 pm

I can basically only tolerate Vince Guaraldi this time of year in terms of seasonal music, with a little bit of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” for good measure, but that’s probably because that was one of the first CDs I ever received.


Alison December 16, 2013 at 6:00 am

I don’t celebrate Christmas but I enjoy Christmas music.
Also, I think boy bands and Mariah Carey need to lay off Christmas classics.


Shannon December 16, 2013 at 8:19 am

I haven’t played much Christmas music this year. Time to rectify that. I think l will break out the Dolly Parton today!


TIFF December 16, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I am a Christmas freak! Especially the music!!


Contemporary Troubadour December 17, 2013 at 11:26 am

I despise that Paul McCartney song. Have since I was too young to reach the radio dial from the back seat of the car.

But caroling — I was a madrigal singer for two holiday seasons in high school and we did the nursing home/hospital/country club circuit, missing RIDICULOUS quantities of class time. And then we put on a dinner theater performance for one weekend in December. One of my favorite memories of that part of my life.


Jane December 20, 2013 at 7:21 am

Kindred spirits, we are. I listen to Christmas music all year long, much to my family’s chagrin. But they can stuff it. Christmas music makes me happy. And if they know what’s good for them, they’ll keep me happy!


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