Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Driving Home a White Christmas

I began to think more about a white Christmas while sitting stranded in Amsterdam Central station under a snow storm last Friday for 3 hours waiting for a northbound train. The sea of people staring at blank information boards and rushing for a place on the few trains that were announced was like a scene from a Roland Emmerich disaster film, but no one really panicked and no commuters were swallowed up by giant sink holes appearing under their feet.

Screen grab from "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
My kids and I have been updating the possibilities daily of the snow being here in Alkmaar on Christmas day, and right now it looks like we could get our wish. This would be my second snowy Christmas in memory; the first was in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1970s. And do we have Christmas spirit here in North Holland? Ja! It’s an unexpected presence on the radio in full force.

Sky Radio from Amsterdam is broadcasting 100% Christmas songs during this coldest December in Europe in 100 years. That’s making for some super-charged Yuletide with the most seasonal songs I’ve heard since I was a kid looking at my white front yard that time in South Jackson. Most songs are from contemporary artists from England and the U.S. ranging from the 1980’s up to the present, and the most popular are played about 5 or 6 times per day. The Sky online station starts even earlier with holiday songs from 1 October through 31 December.

Frans van Dun is the music director of the self-proclaimed ‘Christmas Station’ that has been spinning the holiday tune tradition during the month of December since the station began in 1988. “We started as a station that November, and Christmas songs were first thing we did because nobody was doing that in Holland at the time.” Sky Radio now has about 10 million people in its broadcast area, and estimates that easily more than 1 million people listen daily during the season. He said that the station begins receiving requests for holiday music starting in August.

So who are the broadcast heavy hitters this year? “All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey is safely in the #1 spot, says Van Dun.

Other top holiday tunes on Dutch radio:
“Driving Home for Christmas” by Chris Rea
“Last Christmas” by Wham
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid
“Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams
“Lonely this Christmas” by Mud

My pick for the best song this year is by Chris Rea. "Driving Home for Christmas" has the lively piano hum-along melody with the raspy voice of Rea that takes you on down the road to a place where one can smell an old, wood heater and something good cooking in the kitchen. I imagine more Europeans will be driving home this year with all of the travel difficulties on railways and at airports.

The Elvis live recording of “Blue Christmas” is still a sure winner, complete with screaming girls to enhance the mood. Happy Xmas (War is Over) from John Lennon is a staple of the season that resists growing old. A surprisingly fun and quirky – and distinctly English - tune is “Stop the Calvary” from Jona Lewie. And “Jingle Bell Rock” - via the Hall and Oates version - is guaranteed to get someone to forget about work for a few minutes and reach for a cocktail. “Father Christmas” from Greg Lake, with its haunting melody and backing choir, rounds out my list of favorites. Of course Bing, Dean and Nat still hold their places in Christmas music fame, but I’m checking out the ‘newer’ classics here.

The funniest Christmas song I can think of, except maybe for “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," would have to be Adam Sandler’s
“Hanukkah Song.”
Put on your yalmulka, here comes hanukkah
Its so much fun-akkah to celebrate hanukkah,
Hanukkah is the festival of lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.

And my pick for most annoying Christmas song of all time is “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with its painfully repetitive list of material-based efforts to win affection.

How about that white Christmas? Do they happen often here in North Holland? “I’m in my 50s and I can only remember 7 or 8 white Christmases,” said van Dun at Sky Radio. Well turn on the stereos, light a fire and look outside for the snow men as we head for the home stretch. Happy Holidays!


  1. Hey Matt, Jimmy will not be happy that "Christmas in the Carribean" did not get a mention ! A good Dutch Christmas song with a twist is "Flappie" see if you can translate the lyrics. Peter

  2. We all watched Jimmy on the Today Show video this morning and were getting into the spirit. Will check on Flappie next time I'm making pancakes - sounds fun.
    Merry Christmas to you guys!