Kathleen O'Brien
Kathleen O'Brien


Christmas, family, Jaunty Post, Kathleen O'Brien, Superromance

bayshore jpeg
When I was a little girl, I lived in a house that overlooked Tampa Bay. Built with a sideways Charleston-esque flavor (an homage to my parents’ early married years in that city), it had a long upstairs porch with one of those great swings. My absolute favorite indulgence was to go out there, plop on the swing and listen to Christmas carols while watching the July sun sparkle on the water.

Yes, you read that right. The JULY sun.
Blue Christmas istock

I loved Christmas carols so much I listened to them all year long. Unfortunately, this was before every kid had headphones, so the neighbors had to listen to them, too. My father’s twin brother lived next door, with his army of sons, and, as you can imagine, I got a LOT of grief.

I didn’t care. Boys were dumb, anyhow. I thought “O Holy Night” was one of the most blissful sounds in the universe, and I couldn’t fathom why the pleasure should be limited to a few short weeks.

(Also I didn’t have a clue about delayed gratification. Still don’t, for that matter.)

However, I finally did learn to wait for Christmas carols. My son accomplished with one sweet request what all the years of teasing never could have done. You see, Boychild’s birthday is right around Thanksgiving, and he’s always felt sympathy for the stepsister status of that holiday. He’s convinced that when people start Christmas too soon they’re cheating Thanksgiving of its moment of glory.

Very early in his life, he asked me not to decorate or play carols until after turkey day. I’m even mushier about Boychild than I am about “O Holy Night,” so there was no question. From that moment on, no carols in July. Or August. Or September. Or…

And you know what? The songs are even more piercingly sweet than ever, now that I have to wait. I don’t shop on Black Friday. I jump out of bed at the crack of dawn and pull out my holiday CDs.

christmas cds

“O Holy Night” still tops my list—and, even today, many of my favorites are the ones my parents owned, the ones I pinched from their collection for those summer days on the porch.

I adore Dean Martin’s “It’s A Marshmallow World,” Bing Crosby’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” Nat King Cole’s “A Cradle in Bethlehem” and Peter, Paul and Mary’s “The Magi.” I can’t hear Bing sing “Christmas in Killarney” without seeing my father’s smile, which may be the loveliest present of all.

Christmas red present

How about you? Do you have a starting bell for carol playing? Which songs are your favorites?

29 thoughts on “I Heard the Bells on Independence Day

  1. Mary Anne Landers says:

    Thank you, Kathleen. Yes, I have a favorite carol: “The Cherry Tree Carol”, sung by anybody. It dates from the Middle Ages, and was composed by the most prolific songwriter of the period, Anonymous. I think it’s charming; I listen to it on YouTube. And I don’t even celebrate Christmas!

    1. Mary Anne, I love “The Cherry Tree Carol,” too! It’s on my PP&M album, and they sing it so sweetly. In fact, I think I’ll go listen to it now! 🙂 Thanks for reminding me!

  2. Shana Galen Shana Galen says:

    I just went to a sing-along at preschool yesterday, and it reminded me how fun it is to sing all those songs with others–especially with kids, who just go all out. I also like O, Holy Night and Hark the Herald Angels is a fun one.

    1. Shana, I bet that sing-along was great fun! I miss those elementary school days, filled with pageantry and music. The school both my children attended had the most wonderful music teacher, and she brought joy to student and parent alike! Who does the best version of “Hark the Herald Angels”? I don’t think I have a good one of those, and suddenly I feel the need to hear it! Sigh–I’m so easy. 😉

  3. Sue Gorman says:

    I love listening to the Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole Christmas songs. Bring back fond memories of trimming the tree and good times. My husband surprised me with CDs of the Sinatra, Martin and Cole classics and I love to listen to them. Frank’s version of Silent Night is awesome.

    1. Sue, your husband sounds fabulous! What a great gift! I don’t know Frank’s version of Silent Night, but you can bet I’ll look right this minute! 🙂 Thanks!

  4. Karen Johnston says:

    My favorite Christmas song is The Little Drummer Boy. Ive just always loved it! But this year Ive come to love Jingle Bells. My granddaughter is three and that’s her favorite song. Were from WV so she has a bit of a southern accent, 😉 and to hear her sing Jingle Bells just melts my heart. 🙂

    1. Karen, I hope you’ve been able to get a video of her singing…it’ll be such a treasure in the Christmases to come. I love The Little Drummer Boy, too–my mother and I used to love the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version, which we watched together every year.

      1. Karen Johnston says:

        Oh absolutely! Im a typical bragging grandma! My phone is FULL of photos and videos. lol

        1. YAY! And phones make it so easy to share with everyone, don’t they? I don’t know what proud mothers/grandmothers did in the “old” days! 🙂

  5. Kristan Higgins says:

    Has to be after Thanksgiving. But then it’s almost nonstop. : )

    1. Me, too, Kristan! It’s a carol binge, and I never seem to get enough!

  6. catslady says:

    My husband is a Grinch about Christmas Carols. He wasn’t always that way but when commercials started playing them earlier and earlier (before Halloween this year) he grumbled more and more. So now I play them when he isn’t around (sigh).

    1. Aw, Catslady, what a shame! But I’m glad you still have ways to get the Christmas glee into your life without annoying his!

  7. Mia Marlowe Mia Marlowe says:

    #1 Daughter just introduced me to Sarah McLachlan’s Noel and I’m totally hooked. Here’s the YouTube link for it. You’ll thank me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s8eEMKx05A

    1. Mia, you are an angel! I went to iTunes, I listened, and I bought the whole album! You’re so right…the Noel is stunning, and haunting and glorious. The rest of the album is wonderful, too. I’m a huge fan of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter’s Night,” and her version is just gorgeous! What a gift you just gave me! Thank you!!!

  8. Vanessa Kelly Vanessa Kelly says:

    Kathleen, when the tree goes up at the beginning of December – that’s when I start listening. I love I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day, O Holy Night, The Holly and the Ivy, Hark the Herald Angels Sing…and tons more! My favorite Christmas album is the one by Annie Lennox. It’s sublime!

    1. Oh, Vanessa, I love the Annie Lennox album, too! I heard her “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” on the radio last year and was enchanted with her fresh twist on it, so I got the whole thing. I think she’s marvelous–true to the feeling of the original, but so much her own person!

  9. PirateTrisha says:

    Easy one for me..Snoopy vs the Red Baron (Christmas Bells) even though Dominick the Donkey is a close runner up.

    1. LOL, PirateTrisha! I have to admit that Snoopy and the Red Baron are big parts of my Christmas psyche! 🙂 And whenever I hear the “hee-haw” part of Dominick I really do laugh out loud. I bet the holidays at your house are wild and crazy fun!

  10. Virginia says:

    Oh Holy Night is my favorite. My son had a old Christmas CD of the Hansens and it had Oh Holy NIght on it mixed with other Chirstmas songs and I loved it.

    1. Virginia, it’s hard to imagine a version of O Holy Night that isn’t lovely. Hanson’s medley with Silent Night and …another one I forget right now…really is very, very sweet! Isn’t it great how we learn new and wonderful things from our children?

  11. Marcy Shuler says:

    I love Silent Night. But I also love the Muppet’s Christmas album. It always makes me laugh.
    Muppet: So give us some figgy pudding.
    Miss Piggy: Piggy pudding?? *outraged*
    Muppet: No, figgy pudding. It’s made with figs…
    Miss Piggy: Well, alright.
    Muppet: …and bacon. *very softly*

    1. *snorting Diet Coke…* I LOVE the Muppets! They can do no wrong, in my book. 🙂 However, I’m with you about Silent Night. It may be the gentlest, purest of them all, especially when a singer does it simply, with little fancy orchestration. Oh, I’m hopeless! Every song that’s mentioned here has briefly becomes my favorite Christmas song! 🙂

  12. marypreston says:

    We begin our preparations for Christmas on the first of December. O HOLY NIGHT is a great favourite of mine.

    1. Mary, December first sounds like a very sensible starting point, and I’ve even considered moving to that, occasionally. You must be much more patient than I am, though. 🙂 If Thanksgiving came early, I doubt that I could force myself to wait.

  13. Laurie W G says:

    I too was raised on the classics you mentioned. I also would add Andy William’s Christmas album and Barbara Streisand’s. I’ve had both of them for almost 40 years. I’ve loved John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas, Raffi’s Christmas CD and Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas CD’s for almost that long. I also have Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Suite. Recently I’ve added Kenny G’s, Josh Groban’s, Celine Dion, Straight No Chasers, Susan Boyle, Charlotte Church and Jewel’s! In addition, I have Mariah Carey’s, Vanessa William’s, The Hansen’s, The Beach Boys, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull’s, Bruce Springsteen, The Rat Pack, 98*, Christmas with The Boston Pops, Manheim Steamroller, The Madhatters…

    I just purchased Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped In Red and The Madhatter’s Christmas CD (Madison, Wisconsin, University’s acapella group).

    As you can see I LOVE CHRISTMAS MUSIC!

    Favorite songs:

    Bach- Ode To Joy
    John Denver- Aspen Glow
    Raffi- Must Be Santa & Up On The Housetop
    Justin Hayward Moody Blues -What Child Is This
    Barbara Streisand- Ava Maria & Oh Holy Night
    Celine Dion and Andre Bocelli -The Prayer
    Dean Martin -Baby It’s Cold Outside
    VG’s Charlie Brown’s Christmas -Fur Elise and the Charlie Brown theme
    John Lennon -So This Is Christmas
    Straight No Chaser-12 Days Of Christmas
    Andy Williams -12 Days of Christmas
    Bon Jovi- I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas
    Joni Mitchell & Robert Downey Jr ‘s versions- River
    Mariah Carey- All I Want For Christmas Is You
    The Beach Boys and Hansen -Little St Nick
    Frank Sinatra -Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
    I enjoy the whole Nutcracker Ballet.

    Kenny G is really nice if you like instrumental music.

    1. Oh, Laurie, what a treasure trove of suggestions! I know many of them, love them and own them, but some I’m going to have to check out ASAP! Thank you for sharing so generously!

  14. Donna says:

    Our granddaughter’s birthday is Dec 5, and while I don’t think she ever expressed an opinion, her mother (our daughter) decided there would be no Christmas décor at home until afterDec 5 so GD’s birthday could be special. {My birthday is Dec 20, and GD’s daddy’s birthday is Dec 22, so we fully understand!} While none of us can control what’s on radio, tv, or in the public arena, Daughter has tried to control ‘home’.
    There are so many good Christmas songs, it’s hard to pick a favorite. O Holy Night is one of mine, but so is O Come, All Ye Faithful, and Mary, Did You Know, and I almost cry at the Halleluiah Chorus. I heard Dean Martin’s A Marshmallow World this morning – don’t know that I’d know of it before.
    When my CD player was working, I played Christmas Carols (instrumental) all the time.

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