I must have been about 11 or 12. I came downstairs one December morning before Christmas to find my mother sitting on the couch with tears in her eyes. She was watching PBS, which at that post-Sesame Street point in my life was usually enough to drive me from the room. But I had to look to see what was causing her reaction. On the screen was a large hirsute man singing in Italian, accompanied by a boy’s choir. I listened for a few minutes and then rolled my eyes and went into the kitchen.
The song followed me through Christmas, as my father also caught onto it. Soon they were playing it in the car as we drove around, in the house on the stereo, on the television every time PBS re-aired the holiday concert with Luciano Pavarotti and a boy’s choir singing “Gesu Bambino.”
For awhile, I heard the English translation “When Blossoms Flowered Mid the Snows” sung at church during Christmas. As the years passed and I became a bit more mature and hopefully sophisticated, I came to like the song and recognize its beauty. This song never really caught on in a wide-scale way. It’s not something played on radio stations or associated with a continually aired holiday special or movie. Luckily, thanks to YouTube, I was able to find a clip and listen once again. And on hearing it, it moved me in a way similar to how it had my mother years ago. The difference being that much of my emotion about this song was directly related to my love for and appreciation of my parents.
Many songs I’ve previously discussed are family favorites. I can’t fail to mention several others that, when I hear them, I immediately and forever will think of my father. A few are “Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte, “Merry Christmas, Darling” by The Carpenters, “Count Your Blessings” by Eddie Fisher, “Christmas Auld Lang Syne” by Bobby Darin, “Is Christmas Only a Tree?” by Bing Crosby, and “Home for the Holidays” by The Living Strings. When he first started reading this blog, my dad mentioned that he felt that maybe he had influenced my love of music over the years. Absolutely, he has, and many other more important things. I know that my impatience for the illogical, my desire for organization and common sense, my inability to hold a grudge, and my strong sense of responsibility come directly from my father. I strive every day to live with the same spirit of generosity, compassion for those in need, and deep love of family and tradition that he has always exemplified. Many people have called my father their favorite teacher and their friend over the years. I am one of only two people lucky enough to also call him father, and I could never have asked for better.
For as long as I can remember, my mother has worked tirelessly to make sure every Christmas, year in and year out, has been wonderful and special. I like to think that my borderline fanaticism over the holiday just carries on her legacy. I remember my mother teaching me all the words to “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” when I was about 5 or 6 years old, endlessly repeating the lyrics until I knew all the words. And I remember her drying my tears every time I heard Henry Mancini’s “Carol for Another Christmas” or Bobby Helms’ “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle,” songs that as a child inexplicably made me cry. Even today, though I have children of my own, my mother still teaches me things with her same unending patience and comforts me when I am overwrought and anxious. Her sensitive and nurturing nature is what I attempt to emulate in raising my own children, although I will never be able to parent in the same seemingly effortless way she always has. She is why I understand how important it is as a parent to not forget what it feels like to be a child. My mother is the most beautiful person I know, inside and out, and the heart of our family.
I have learned through having my own children that I owe my parents unpayable debts. I don’t let them know often enough how much they mean to me, and my attempts will never really be enough.
Today, I dedicate my post and this song to my amazing and wonderful parents, with whom I am so glad to celebrate the holidays each year. Mom and Dad, Dad and Mom, I hope you will enjoy both the song and this essay and that they will inspire good memories for you as they did and do for me. Thank you for being not only great parents, but also awesome grandparents.
And know that I always and forever love you both so much.