In high school, my school organized caroling just after finals. We’d gather in the school’s courtyard, bundled up in scarves and gloves, as the music teacher passed out binders full of traditional carols like “Silent Night” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” We’d walk up and down the neighborhood by the school, ringing doorbells and singing by the light of our phones. Afterward, we’d gather again in the school courtyard, now stocked with tables covered in Christmas cookies and hot apple cider, marshmallows, candy canes and hot chocolate packets. On the way home from caroling, if my little brothers were in the car, we would play “Carol of the Bells” by Family Force Five or “Little Drummer Boy” by For King and Country with my little brother, Asher, doing a stellar imitation of a speedy drum solo.
I love all of these songs, but when you ask me what song screams Christmas to me, it’s not any of those. It’s my dad’s favorite Christmas song: “His Favorite Christmas Story.”
It’s got a little rock to it, and the lyrics aren’t really about Christmas at all, strangely. It tells the story of a man and a woman who meet at a dance one night in 1947. At a quarter to eleven, the man finally asks the woman to dance, but afterward, they go their separate ways. The man tells this story every year, and it becomes his defining feature, but he doesn’t know the woman’s name or how to find her again. The chorus of the song is the story of the dance, told the same way every time, even though the man is getting older and telling the story to different people. However, at the very end of the song, the man is dying alone in a hospital bed and he asks to hear a Christmas story. The story that the nurse tells him is the mirror image of the story he’s told all his life; he’s finally found the woman he’s been thinking of every Christmas for most of his life, only in his final moments.
I tear up just thinking about the song. Every time I listen to it, I can’t help but cry. I can’t tell if the story is happy or sad. On the one hand, he finally found this woman, but on the other, he has no time left. He’s dying, and he’s spent so much of his life waiting for this person. Is all that time and love a waste? I don’t know. I can never tell. The song certainly doesn’t pass judgement. It’s here to tell a story, and the interpretation is up to you.
My dad plays this song every year. He loves playing music so loudly that it fills the whole house, especially during Christmastime, the same way he always buys massive poinsettias that my mum hates trying to keep alive and those netted bags of scented pinecones that always make me sneeze. I don’t know why he loves it; I’ve never asked him. But I love this song, because it makes me think of him. When I hear the title of the song, “His Favorite Christmas Story,” it’s not about the man in the song. It’s about my dad, pumping music through the house as he fries potato pancakes on the stove.