When you’re a kid in America, nothing is as tangibly magical as Christmas. The excitement, the presents, the lights, the sheer spectacle of the entire world gone shimmery. And nothing is more special than family, the entire family gathered together, the food, the sense of absolute belonging. You are home, in every way it is possible to be home. Or at least that’s how it was for me.
But I was an unusual case. I was raised by my grandparents, which meant that the average age of those who defined those postcard moments of my youth was a generation higher than for most people. Which meant that I found myself alone a generation sooner than most people I know, sharing so much of the holiday season with the ghosts of those I loved. Add to this the alienation of walking away from the religion around which it was all constructed.
So for me, holiday songs tend to come in two varieties: the dark, haunted songs that bespeak the mystery of the season, and the bright cheerful songs that nonetheless seem to remind me of how happy I was, once upon a time. There are many, and I imagine that a lot of my favorites are among yours, as well. It’s hard to pick just one, but since that’s what the challenge calls for, “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel” has always struck me as the loneliest, most stunningly beautiful piece of music, a landscape of world-weariness infused with the slightest, most momentary star of hope.
Not sure I’ve heard anyone do it better than Enya.