The Unexpected Present

Voices Past and Present End on a High Note

Christmas Eve 2023

It was an unexpected present this Christmas season; It’s not where we ever thought we would be with decorations boxed in a storage unit, letters and card sending didn’t happen, and the only holiday travel I was on was to be with Yuri, who remains in a sub-acute rehab in Rockville, recovering from a recent fall and pelvic fracture at the facility.

But I prepared a traditional Christmas Eve dinner. A ritual that kept my mind focused on getting it done right while listening to the radio station XPN’s annual Night Before, a 12-hour marathon of Christmas song collection. This time of year, holiday season, Christmas season, you hear all the same old, same old Christmas tunes on the radio. That night, there were many I never heard before. It kept me going, preparing foods – borscht, kutia, ushka, holubtsi, fish in aspic – until I finished the varenyky at 1 a.m.

Distinct voices. You never forget them because they resonate in your mind, evoking images, memories, and emotions. One of my favorites is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, sung by Bing Crosby. What a sound– deep, full-bodied, and reverberating down the hall of my memory palace, taking me back to Christmas childhood. We would be sent to the basement while the “angels” came and put gifts under the tree on Christmas Eve. Recordings of the Andrew Sister’s Jingle Bells and Bing Crosby’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer churned on a vintage record player, an RCA Victrola, left by the ghosts of past owners. Bing’s voice came through in richness I savor to this day. You don’t get that from a compressed MP3 file.

Another favorite voice was David Bowie, who did a live television recording of the Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby on Crosby’s annual Christmas show in 1977. The story goes that Bowie didn’t think the song made his voice stand out. The show writers came up with the intertwining verses of Peace on Earth in an hour. Bowie and Bing arranged and rehearsed the tune less than an hour before a live audience. It was recorded live. I have the CD. It’s still better than a compressed MP3 version.

George Michael is a voice that evokes Christmas songs from the 80s from a duet part with Sting in Do They Know It’s Christmas? a Band Aid fundraiser that overshadowed Last Christmas, which came in at number two in 1984. I looked forward to hearing it every year, hoping the Chipmunk song might someday fade into oblivion. George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016. Last Christmas, it finally made it to number one in 2021. While he sold tons of records and made tons of money, he was a troubled soul with the voice of an angel hitting the high notes.

But my forever favorite Christmas tune is Yuri’s rendition of A Christmas Song. His voice, a unique blending instrument, strong in the lead and exceptionally complementary in harmony. He protected his voice the way he cared for his instruments because that’s what it was. Listening to the other person and players, he arranges his part accordingly even when they change keys, as I often do so so as not to leave my comfort zone. We sang together on Christmas Eve, keeping our traditions alive despite not being in our home.

The same goes for the people in Ukraine. For the first time, we are all celebrating Christmas on the same day, and many on the frontlines share a traditional Christmas Eve dinner with new-found families in places that are not their homes. It’s not their choice, just as it isn’t ours. Nevertheless, we move forward one step at a time, believing that the sun will come out and shine upon us again (thank you, Itsiu).

From UCCA’s email blast: Ukrainian Congress Committee of America is launching another Operation Against the Cold fundraising effort describing the need for winter coats, jackets, and socks, including pictures of another significant corporate donation from Fieldsheer of over 50,000 pairs of warm/heated socks being unpacked in Ukraine. Additionally, UCCA’s Generator Project continues to provide portable power to keep fighting men and women, along with the millions of internally displaced people, sheltered and warm this Winter. Tis the season to be generous.

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