Monday, December 24, 2007

This may be my favorite Christmas album, not that I have a lot of favorite Christmas albums, mind you, I'm referring to the cover. I mean, come on Ray, where does he think he's going?

I can just picture the record company talking Ray into it: "No, man, no -you look great! Okay, hold this. Good! Smile, Ray!" And the look on his face is priceless. It's like he's saying, "Hey, uh, what am I holding again? Fellas? Hello?" You can just hear the entourage snickering in the background, out there in the forest. It's like the cover of a comedy album. The thought of a blind guy in a blue tux behind the reins of a big-ass, one-horse sleigh dashing through the snow across the countryside makes me laugh all day long. And you gotta love how they cropped that horse.

Don't get me wrong, it has some stellar tracks on it. Ray's cover of "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" are plainly the best versions of those songs anywhere. His organ playing is catchy, spirited, head-wagging stuff. And when Ray sings it, it's "He'll say: 'are you married?', we'll say: 'no, man!' but you can do the job when you're in town, brother." Also, he sings "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in that I'm-begging-you-stay-here-and-have-sex-with-me-all-night-long sort of way that only Ray can do. And if there's anything Christmas needs, it's more sex!

But other tracks are lacking, unless you like the sounds of Ray Charles singing like he's been putting back fully-leaded eggnogs all season. There's a song entitled "Christmas Time" where he's either blasted drunk, or bound to a legal contract, or both. It's a laugh the first time, unlistenable every time thereafter.

It saddens me, but if you go looking for this CD you may find it in somewhat less-inspired repackaging, looking like this:

Oh well. I guess someone clued him in. Also, it doesn't have exactly the same songs. Stupid music industry.

My other Christmas fav is B.B. King's "A Christmas Celebration of Hope", not pictured. Don't let the lackluster album title and boring cover mislead you. It's just plain great B.B. at his best. No one sings "Back Door Santa" like B.B. Then again, no one sings "Back Door Santa". Sample lyric: Well, they call me 'Back Door Santa' I make my rounds about the break of day. I make all the ladies happy, while the men are out at play. I ain't like old St. Nick, he don't come but once a year... And so forth. Like Ray, B.B. knows that if there's anything Christmas needs, it's more sex! Hilarious.

Both are worth the price of admission. The Ray Charles album I bought at a record store twenty years ago solely on the merit of its cover art, and today it's the only record I have left. I used to have hundreds, but they all left me somewhere along the line, sadly. Not sure why I kept this one, probably because it ended up in my box of Christmas decorations. Strangely, when I got married it was the only Christmas decoration I owned. I still pull it out at Christmas and put it on the shelf. Gets a smile out of me every time.

As if Hawaii wasn't Christmasy enough, we'll be spending Christmas day in Vegas (baby) making the seasonal sister-visit trifecta complete. It's always a pleasure to be out there with my family, as this sis really knows how to put on a rollicking good party and is a terrifically gracious host. You don't know holiday living until you've joined in with my family singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas"! There are hand-painted wine glasses to help you through the song (the wine helps, too). And driving across the desert is a treat, and we'll time the drive with Michael Medved's lecture on Christmas. Just like his lecture on Thanksgiving, this one is every bit as interesting and informative.

I suppose one of these days the Ditchman family will swell in numbers and Santa will be summoned to Oceanside, but for now we spend Christmas Eve away from home. The kid doesn't know the difference just yet, but she'll have Christmas altogether mastered sometime in the next 48 hours.

I love Christmas. I love nearly everything about it. At church a few weeks ago the pastor said something like, "I'm sick and tired of hearing people say 'the meaning of Christmas is getting lost'. If you think it's getting lost than do something about it." He's right. Stop complaining.

Well, it's never been lost on my account. What's difficult about Christmas is the part where you grow up. The perspective on the holiday takes on such a radical change through to maturity, that it's a challenge to keep the meaning all in focus. It will never be like it was when we were kids, but the magic is still there, however it looks from this side of life. And it was always about the same things: Gifts. Giving. Children. It started when those three wise men brought gifts to that child in the barn, who Himself was a gift to us all.

In many ways it's a story only a child could tell. Case in Point.. Talk about Christmas miracles. What a story.

And what a Story.

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

Matthew 18:3 (New International Version)