For a special Christmas edition of Friday Recommends, we enthusiastically recommend the following movie and CD:
Joyeux Noël is based on a true incident from Christmas Eve 1914, when French, German and Scottish regiments were entrenched in battle on the Western Front in France. The commanding officers of each regiment agree to an informal (and unauthorized) truce for the day, and the three sides meet in No Man’s Land and share cigarettes, champagne and football. The film takes some liberties and is unabashedly sentimental, but it refuses to gloss over the fact that the ceasefire did nothing to stop “The Great War” that was only just beginning. (Nor does it disguise the fact that the officers paid a price for their actions). Joyeux Noël made us think, more than any other Christmas movie we’ve watched, about what peace on earth might really look like, even for just a night.
(Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night is also about this incident, though we’ve never read it.)
Songs For Christmas by Sufjan Stevens is a joyous mishmash of hymns and popular carols with a few Sufjan originals sprinkled in. Stevens recorded a collection of Christmas songs for friends and family in 2001, then continued the tradition every year through 2006 (except 2004, when he was laboring over Illinois). Songs For Christmas collects those five EPs in an attractive little box with numerous superfluous goodies, ranging from animal stickers to an essay by Rick Moody. (Who appointed Rick Moody Nobel Laureate of Liner Notes? He also wrote an essay for The Wilco Book. We want his job.)
As Stevens himself writes in the liner notes,
Christmas music poses a cosmological conundrum in requiring us to sing so sweetly and sentimentally about something so terrifying and tragic. … It intersects a supernatural phenomenon [the incarnation of God] with the sentimental mush of our mortal lives … leaving in its wake a particular state of mind one can only describe as ‘that warm, fuzzy feeling.’
Right. What he said.
What we love about Songs For Christmas is that stirring versions of “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (two of our all-time favorite hymns) appear alongside slightly less traditional fare like “Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”, “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!” and “Get Behind Me, Santa!” (Stevens loves his exclamation points.) For our money, the discs get better by the year, culminating with PEACE [Volume 5] and the fantastic Sufjan originals “Sister Winter” and “Star of Wonder.”
If we haven’t sold you yet, the only remaining plug we can give these songs is this: It’s Christmas music that won’t make you throw up in your mouth a little. Ho, ho, ho.