The most wonderful time of the year?

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

This is normally how I feel about this time of the year, more or less. Cranky and bitter, mostly, and deeply sympathetic to the people who find this an enormously stressful time of the year. This year, though, there’s a lot more sympathy and a lot more sap, and a lot less self-pity. Driving home from work thisyesterday morning, Scott Walker was talking about people who get nothing for Christmas, and while I’m sure the story was about the homeless (I got home and went to bed and didn’t hear how the actual story related to the teaser), I felt kind of weepy at the thought of people who spend this time by themselves and who have few real friends out there. And then I felt kind of lucky, because I’m not one of those people. And then I felt like a shit, because I should really point that out to my friends more often.

Maybe there’s a reason Thanksgiving and Christmas are so close together in the US. I dunno.

Because this is an odd year for me, in terms of how I feel about The Season, I’m doing some strange things. Like, I’m in the midst of putting together an album of Christmas tunes. It’s an interesting project: Not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas music, and therefore not owning a whole bunch myself, I’ve been using — I can’t believe I’m about to type this — iTunes to build the album up. And, much as I hate to admit it, Apple’s got a bit of a winner on their hands with the damn thing.

Admittedly the interface sucks, and it took me an hour to figure out how to do anything. Fr’instance, why the hell do I need to import files into my library, and then copy them over into a playlist? This isn’t rocket science; Notmad gets this exactly right — you present a unified view of the file library, and use context menus to allow people to move files back and forth. (Notmad, by the way, is hella awesome; you must own a copy if you have a Creative player.) Or you use drag and drop. Neither of which work in iTunes, so far as I can tell. You have to select, copy, then paste. Yecch. Also, because I had to import all 10-something GB of my music library in to make the thing go properly, I’m now absolutely terrified of making any changes to the library for fear that I’ll accidentally blow something away on my hard drive. Part of me understands how this works — iTunes is actually doing a good thing here, in that it’s divorcing data management from the filesystem, and for 99% of users I think that’s probably to their benefit. But in my case, because my data management tool is the filesystem, I’m not so thrilled.

Anyway. Interface and data model annoyances aside, it was quite cool to sit down for a few hours, pour through ITMS’ selection of Christmas music, and pull the stuff I thought I wanted. Ended up with a couple of duds that were obvious within about five nanoseconds of listening to the full track (rather than just the 30 second extract), which pissed me off mildly, but whatever; it’s not that big a deal. The convenience is hilarious. I fear, though, that the convenience lead me to make some pretty odd selections of artists I normally wouldn’t even let come within 500 yards of my speakers: Michael Buble? The Ronettes? Andy Williams? Some people — hi, mom! — will be highly disappointed with some of my choices, including picking Holly Cole’s version of “Santa Baby” over Eartha Kitt’s “authoritative” version, or Charlotte Church’s cover of “The Christmas Song” over Nat King Cole’s original. I did, however, stick with Elvis’ version of “Blue Christmas,” since, well, everyone else’s sucks.

One track I did go back and forth on, for quite a while actually, was “The Carol of the Bells.” This is maybe one of my top five Christmas songs, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, the only version I could think of was.. you guessed it, Mr. Mackey’s. You know, the one that goes, “Hark hear the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say “ding-dong mm-kay.”” What can I say? I am that much of a loser. And I think the reason I love this song so much is because of the way it builds and builds and builds, and seems so damn menacing, when in reality it’s not menacing at all. (Most people don’t know that it’s actually a Ukranian carol, based on a Slavic legend that every bell in the world rang upon Jesus’ birth.) When you hear it in a cathedral, with a full orchestra blasting away, it’s damn impressive — one of the few pieces of Christmas music that can actually move me to tears, and I can’t figure out why. And, weirdly, I didn’t own a copy, other than Mr. Mackey’s, and you can’t put that on a serious Christmas album. So I went hunting. It took me about 45 minutes test out different versions, and I finally settled on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s version from Joy to the World, which is Just Right. Not too quiet, not too slow, not too watered-down.. it’s great. I’ve listened to it a half-dozen times since it arrived on my hard drive, and while I might have made some compromises elsewhere in the album to get the variety I wanted, I feel 100% certain this one was the right choice. Highly recommended.