'It's a Marshmallow World" was the family favorite Christmas song of my childhood. Two of my brothers, each with a glass of eggnog in their hand, schmoozed out the lyrics. That was from our swinging '50s holiday album. Then there was a more traditional album with Pavarotti and the Vienna Boys Choir singing Christmas carols. Neither album was particularly good, but Christmas just wasn't Christmas without those recordings. Holiday music was the hot topic at last week's girls' night out. "It's hard to find holiday music that isn't cheesy," offered Bernice. "Our holiday selection is pretty lame, but the one that gets played all the time is Nat King Cole's Christmas Album [ $18.99 on Yahoo! Shopping]. But my hubby isn't a big fan of Nat, so we need a fresh influx of holiday songs in our home."
"We've never taken the time to collect good music," added Sarah. "We got a Harry Connick Jr. Christmas album from somewhere, which I don't like. I also need new stuff."
Eve had a mission: holiday music in a variety of genres for the Christian and non-Christian: something for everyone. When I was done, Sarah and Bernice would have a long list of holiday music to buy.
Phone calls went out to numerous friends -- What's your favorite holiday CD or song? " Mahalia Sings Songs of Christmas [ $9.99 at Tower.com]," replied sister Cathy. "I love her stuff. Mahalia Jackson's a gospel singer, the album is all spirituals. I particularly like her 'No Room at the Inn' and 'Sweet Little Jesus Boy.' My family rolls its eyes when I put it on; they like more traditional hymns, but I love it."
" Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas [ $16 at Goldenrod.com] is my holiday pick," answered Nancy. "I love Ella. How can you not love Ella? 'What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?' is romantic; 'Let It Snow' is jazzy -- the CD is a keeper."
" The Promise of Ages: Christmas Collection by Taverner Concert and Choir [ $9.24 at StubooksAndMore.com] is a wonderful collection of medieval music," offered friend Meg. "Traditional European carols, some in German, Latin, English. Another beautiful CD I was given recently is Christmas with the Trapp Family Singers [ $8.89 at Stubooks.com]. It's an original recording of the family, just lovely."
I found it amusing that nobody was hesitating when I asked them what their favorite Christmas album was. Kind of like ice cream flavors, people know their favorite.
"I love bluegrass," said Bernice's mother Susan, "and Winter Solstice [ $11.50 at ModernRock.com] by John McCutcheon is great. I love his song 'Christmas in Detroit,' which is about poor people in Detroit and their Christmas. The song is a reminder for me during the holidays about those less fortunate. He also has a song called 'Christmas in the Trenches,' a true story about soldiers in World War I. The soldiers called a truce on Christmas day and came out and exchanged gifts and sang songs. Then the next day they were supposed to kill each other. It's hard to kill somebody when you know his face. It's especially moving since we are military people.
"My other favorite CD," continued Susan, "is The Harry Simeone Chorale -- The Little Drummer Boy [ $8.29 at Stubooks.com]. My father used to listen to it through the holidays, and now I listen to it. 'The Little Drummer Boy' song is my favorite."
"I love Bing Crosby's White Christmas album [ $5.98 on Amazon.com]," answered friend Chris. "For me, that will always be Christmas and family, and 'Faith of Our Fathers' brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it."
College chum Josh loves Jackson 5 -- The Christmas Collection ( $11.51 at wzkbpower.com). "They've got a bunch of great Motown versions of classics," he informed me, "but I like 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.'"
Frank, Bernice's husband, was a fan of the Notre Dame Glee Club singers. "We used to have the record as kids," he exclaimed, "called A-Caroling with the Notre Dame Glee Club , which my brother and I loved. I'm not even sure you can still buy it, but it was a great collection."
I found an LP for $15 on eBay, but could not find it at any retail site.
Friend Bill loves chant. "There's a CD called Christmas Gregorian Chant , sung by the Monastic Choir of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Fontgombault. If you want serenity to descend on your home, pop this on, and your blood pressure immediately will go down. It's what I imagine heaven to be like, the peace and beauty. It's nice to change out the regular holiday favorites with something completely different."
No price was found for the CD, but the phone number for the monks who sell it here in the U.S. is 918-772-2454.
I asked several non-Christians their choice in holiday music.
Bernie, an atheist, is a music aficionado. "Every December, I go hear a live performance of Handel's Messiah ," he said, "and only good productions of it."
Another friend, Carl, recommends the Messiah recording by English Concert and Choir and conducted by Trevor Pinnock.
Sue, a Jewish friend, said Chanukah was not a big thing in her family growing up. "I don't have any favorite Chanukah music," she replied, "but I asked a couple of my friends, and two mentioned A Taste of Chanukah [ $14.95 at JewishStore.com] as a nice CD. Of course, there's also Adam Sandler's 'The Chanukah Song,' which is more like a joke, but fun."