If you live to be more than half a century you find yourself repeating certain things over and over. For example, you may eat Chinese food every New Year’s Eve, or you may vacation at Cape May every summer. And then there are the little things. You may get a Cafe Mocha at Starbucks every Thursday or a bagel every Friday. We are creatures of habit. There is comfort in sameness and predictability.
Well if you do something on the same day every year, and year after year, it’s safe to say you have created a tradition. Traditions start out innocently enough. There is a spark of inspiration and an act that is received well by others.
“Let’s host a Halloween party,” you may have said innocently back when such parties were rare. Now, 20 years later, you are still hosting that party. It’s a tradition.
As readers of this blog know, I was married on the day after Thanksgiving in 1978. So after my new bride and I returned from our honeymoon, it was time to prepare for Christmas. Back then, the Christmas season did not actually start until Santa arrived in the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving. And since the official Christmas season began later, it was not unusual for people to begin shopping just a week or two before Christmas. I was just at that point.
If you’re like me, one of the first things you did as a new couple was to merge your book and record collections. And so on a Monday afternoon in early December 1978 I merged my Christmas records with my wife’s. Back then, my work schedule got me home several hours before my wife. So after looking at all the combined Christmas music, I decided that I had some time and we needed a mix tape highlighting the best Christmas recordings from our respective collections.
I wanted to use tracks from the Carpenters Christmas album because it was one that we both loved. I put the needle down on the record and heard Richard Carpenter’s ethereal voice reciting the words to “O Come O Come Emmanuel” at the start of a great instrumental medley of songs. But I didn’t want to start the mix tape out cold with a solo voice. Just then, I noticed that my Philadelphia-born wife had in her collection a recording of Christmas music by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Symphony. And as luck would have it, there was a beautiful string-heavy recording of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I had my opening to the Christmas mix tape. We would go from the lush sounds of the Philadelphia Symphony right into Richard Carpenter’s solo voice and then on to that great medley.
It continued that way throughout the tape. I would use an instrumental followed by a vocal of the same song. Herb Alpert’s Christmas album (one record in both our collections) provided many of the instrumentals. My collection provided vocals by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. My wife’s collection provided the same from Andy Williams and Perry Como. At the end, we had a beautiful mixing of our favorite Christmas music. My wife liked it so much, she put a label on the cassette box naming this “The Good Christmas Tape.”
That could have been the end of the story, but here is where tradition comes in. The next year, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, we came home from church, having celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. One of the hymns traditionally sung in Catholic churches on the first Sunday of Advent is “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Having that tune in my head, as soon as we got home, I put the “Good Christmas Tape” in the cassette player and the beautiful sounds of Eugene Ormandy’s version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” filled the apartment. A tradition had begun.
The following year on the same Sunday I played the same tape, and the year after that, and the year after that. And so it was that when I played “The Good Christmas Tape” this year (transferred to a CD sometime in the ’90s), I announced it as the 36th consecutive year. It’s amazing how fast the years have gone by, and how great it is to have a tradition to herald the season. Because after all, tradition is what the holiday season is all about.