(Ed. Note: this piece was originally posted on definearevolution.com in 2015)
I am a nerd for the holiday season. I am a nerd for it, through and through. As soon as Thanksgiving is over–and most people are trampling over each other to get that new smart TV that’s only a couple dollars off from its actual price–I break out the mistletoe, pour up some egg nog (not really because it’s gross and I’m sober), and blast Christmas tuneage. I start singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on my way to work. I whistle “Frosty the Snowman” around the house. I sit my kid(s) down and we watch Rudolph and A Charlie Brown Christmas. We make Christmas cookies, talk about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other December holidays, and I (sometimes) even dress up in ugly sweaters.
However, among all the covers and classics and sweaters and cookies, there is one thing in particular always gets me in that mood to give love on Christmas Day–and the rest of the year. Motown’s 1973 Christmas compilation LP A Motown Christmas is, for me, that album.
Now, perhaps, it has something to do with my late mother blasting the hell out of The Temptations’ version of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” throughout my formative years and someone shouting “HEY RUDOLPH!” always brings a smile to my face. Perhaps it’s because my mother, during my elementary school years, always managed to help my school put on a Christmas pageant where we sang a medley of Jackson 5 Christmas songs. Or perhaps it’s all of those things and the fact that the album is just a great collection of soul covers of Christmas and holiday songs. I mean, she played the 20 Christmas Classics version of the album (it’s been released in various forms) to the point that it started skipping and I had to buy her the CD version(s) of it.
But, whatever the case may be, the album is one of my favorite holiday albums and one of my favorite albums overall. I mean, when you open with young Michael Jackson singing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” without a shred of cynicism in his voice, you’ve got a classic on your hands.
A collection of Christmas odds-and-ends tracks performed by The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and more, A Motown Christmas is, for me, the perfect mix of schmaltz and soul. For every “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” you get a “Silent Night,” an “Ave Maria,” a “Little Christmas Tree” (the Michael song and the Stevie song), and, well, “Give Love On Christmas Day.” If you need a pick-me-up from the commercialism of the holidays, this is it.
Now, let’s backtrack a bit: I’m not against buying expensive gifts and/or getting expensive gifts. I mean, shoot, I almost bought a 4K TV for myself and the family this year since our previous one died in two years (note to self: get the insurance). But, when the holidays hit, we sometimes forget that it’s not just about the presents and all that. It’s about the love and the family and the feelings and all of that. And this album, for me–and hopefully, for you–gives/will give you those feelings and then some. I mean, it’s soul acts singing about the holidays in a way that’s readily embraceable by people of all denominations. Even though, there is a heavy helping of Christian overtones. I mean, it is A Motown Christmas, after all; additionally, it was recorded before we became as inclusive and politically correct as we are today. However, even the agnostic and the atheists and the non-Christians can’t deny that it’s a beautiful album and full of the things that make Christmas an amazing time of year.
Plus, you’re hearing MJ, Smokey Robinson, and other legends singing about the holidays. What more could you ask for? Not too much, if you ask me. Of course, this album–and its various iterations–has a special place in my heart and has helped make the loss of my mother this past March a bit more bearable. Even without that bit of information, it’s just a feel-good moment to hear Eddie Kendricks, for instance, belt out “SIIIIIIILENNNNNT NIIIIIIGHTTTT!!!”
So, with that said? Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and so on from me–and the DAR family–to you. Enjoy it and take the time to be around family, not just nerd out over gifts.