For parents of young children, the highs and lows of the holidays can be like an anxiety dream in which all the kids' birthdays converge on the same day. The anticipation, excitement, sleeplessness, exhaustion, and anti-climax grow as the season builds. But these emotional peaks and valleys can be smoothed if the child latches on to an album of holiday music and listens to it with awe and happiness over and over. If parents are really lucky, they may find the music as likeable as their kids do. The following CDs have a good chance of making that particular miracle happen.
Arthur's Perfect Christmas (Rounder Kids) is sure to hold a grade-schooler's attention with its energy, silliness, and because of most kids' familiarity with the characters from the popular PBS series. As Arthur's family gathers for their own Christmas festivities, they learn how and why other types of winter holidays are celebrated. Songs for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, even Sweden's St. Lucia's Day are interspersed with Christmas standards, in jazz, rock, and traditional styles. Some lyrics have been altered to please the 7-year-old listener, but most of the selections are seriously good by anyone's standards. One skippable lapse: D.W.'s punk version of "Silent Night."
For an album that's all music, and all Christmas, all the time, check out the joyful For Unto Us a Child Is Born (Twin Sisters), full of original, old-fashioned rock and roll (drums, guitar, keyboard, sax, pennywhistle, and flute), capably and clearly sung by children. Uplifting and infectious, occasionally incredibly sweet, it is reminiscent of the best of "Godspell."
A Child's Celebration of Christmas (Music for Little People) makes for some very strange bedfellows. This is the first and quite probably only time you'll hear RunDMC and Pete Seeger on the same album. The eclectic mix can have obvious strategic advantages, especially in families that include ultra easily bored preteens. Parents might not totally appreciate the barking-dog version of "Jingle Bells" but will be rewarded for their patience by Stevie Wonder's irresistible "Everyone's a Kid at Christmas Time" and the bone-chillingly beautiful folk song "Nothing but a Child" by Robin and Linda Williams. Other artists include Odds Bodkin, Chuck Berry, the Jackson 5, and the Beach Boys.
Lastly, a quick reminder of some older CDs that are deservedly on their way to becoming classics:
Tom Paxton's A Child's Christmas is a gem. Paxton's lighthearted lyrics and imagination, as well as an obvious empathy with kids, make this an album that all generations can appreciate. And the lively folk melodies can really get under your skin.
John Denver brings depth and sweetness to A Christmas Together, the album he did with Jim Henson's Muppets.
Nick at Nite's A Classic Cartoon Christmas has songs from yearly Christmas cartoon specials that many grown-ups and kids will recognize. Jimmy Durante ("Frosty the Snowman"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio ("Charlie Brown"), and the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" are some of the big draws.