some family rituals are etched into my mind from childhood. my mom would teach me & my sister how to make christmas candy, something he has shared with my own children. we used to go to the 11:00 candlelight christmas eve service, and often help set up the homemade luminaries that lined the sidewalks of our church. i remember slipping under the covers of my parents' bed on christmas morning, giggling with my younger sister while my dad arranged flood lights and our super8 movie camera. every year we would alternate who opened the first package, wrapped in a big black garbage bag (which, cleverly, was used to gather up all of the trash before it piled high in the living room). the entire family would walk our dog "popcorn", go have lunch at the farm with my grandparents and extended family, and return home to mess around with our newfound loot.
my mom always played music while we opened presents. our dilapidated record player would keep spinning two albums in particular: kenny rogers & dolly parton once upon a christmas and the oak ridge boys christmas (pretty creative title, guys). these albums became iconic in our family.
i usually do musical things during the holidays. i have regularly played the ellington/strayhorn nutcracker suite, showed up at the elementary schools and played sing-a-longs for the kiddos while talking about life as a musician, and annually drug my saxophone studio out into the community to play jazzy quartets while wearing santa hats. i used to play piano for my church, including a service where i put all of the christmas hymns in the key of D. last year i recorded a tune for the isu president's e-card, and last week soloed with a handbell choir for their vespers show.
the wife and i have developed our own family traditions. we pin our family ornaments from the ceiling, pose for makeshift cmas photos, hang lights all over the place, write and edit and laugh at our family cmas letter, put up the nativity, and drive around the town in search of neighborhood light spectacles. we still wad up the wrapping paper and chuck it at each other, make christmas candy together, start with the stockings and keep the christmas tunes cranked throughout the days on either side of the 25th. our favorites include james brown funky christmas, johnny barstow a bowtie christmas, and we always kick it off with this tune by mr. sinatra.
playing those old bird licks or treating melodies like miles tips your hat to their legacies. mixing up the hot fives with kurt rosenwinkel honors both time periods. understanding and acknowledging how the great ones did it is important, but creating your own practices and holding fast to them is truly seeking what the masters sought.