Songwriters Allison Russell, Charo, Chris Ballew and more share their Christmas musical traditions
Have you ever wondered what are some of your favorite musicians’ holiday traditions?
That’s why we’ve reached out to a number of these amazing, heartfelt songwriters we love to have a little window into how they celebrate the holidays. Whether it’s singing around the fireplace or baking cookies for the family, we wanted to see what people like Allison Russell, Charo, Big Freedia and Chris Ballew could do around December 25th.
So, without further ado, let’s check out some musical vacation stories!
1. Allison Russell
“In Nashville we have a wonderful friend Joe Pisapia, who every year he and his wife throw this fabulous night of carols in his studio and he records it. It is such a joyous moment of pleasure. Of course, he couldn’t do it last year because of the pandemic. But I think we’re going to try to do it this year – everyone is vaccinated in our circle, so I think we’re going to try to make it a smaller version. But I love it, I love to sing Christmas carols with friends!
“My partner’s family, the Lindsay family, they are doing everything they can. JT’s brother plays the piano and we get together and sing Christmas carols. We always make mulled wine and have the wonderful aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg that float throughout the house. Every Christmas Eve either [my husband] JT or his father reads The night before Christmas at [our daughter] Ida and her cousins. There are more and more cousins because JT’s little sister just had a baby!
2. Chris Ballew (Presidents of the United States of America)
“I grew up in a religious family. Although I have not continued to be traditionally spiritual, I am spiritual in part because of this education. My parents didn’t play a lot of music at home in general, but on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day my mother used to put a collection of Gregorian carols.
“I didn’t consider the music to be dark or heavy. I found it ethereal and beautiful. When my mom passed away I found these records in her things and now when I have my own sweet moments on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day I put on the same records and feel transported and connected to my mom and my family and all those innocent Christmas times passed. “
“Christmas is for me a moment of love and happiness. I follow the traditions of my family in Murcia, Spain. We sing Villancios, which are folk songs that are hundreds of years old. Here is a line of lyrics from the most popular Villancio:
In the Bethlehem portal there is a star, a sun and a moon.
The virgin and Saint Joseph and the child who is in her manger.
In El portal de Belen hay estrella, sol y luna
La Virgen y san jose, el niño que esta en la cuna.“
4. Bonnie Bloomgarden (Death Valley Girls)
“I didn’t grow up with Christmas as a family, so all of my Christmas memories are based on pretty much one thing, Batman forever, and in particular the music of Danny Elfman! There is a certain energy in Christmas and New Years that is unlike any other time of the year.
“Almost the only thing the whole world celebrates together is New Years! It’s pretty special if you think about it. And nothing evokes more emotion or nostalgia in me than the music of Danny Elfman. Watching the films he composed is my Christmas tradition. Happy New Year to all!
“My tradition is that I sing ‘Christmas song‘ For my family. The song had been a staple at my family’s Christmas Eve dinner. In college, I started singing it at gatherings of other school friends. In the 90s my coworkers became a kind of family, so I sang at our Christmas parties. My old boss retired last summer and I sang it to her at her party. There were many times when I didn’t have the money to buy a lot of gifts, so I shared the gift God gave me.
6. Eva Walker (Black tones)
“When I think of Christmas, I think of Luther Vandross and his album, It’s Christmas. We listened to this as a family every year growing up. I’m also thinking of decorating our decades-old artificial green Christmas tree with my grandma while my grandpa turns on the holiday lights in the front windows of the house. When it comes to new musical traditions, I love watching the Pee-wee Herman special and Emmet Otter Christmas Jug-Band and sing all the songs.
7. Grand Freedia
“I got into the church choir so we sang all the hymns over the holidays: ‘Hark the Herald Angel Sings’, ‘Silent Night’ —all the classics. I still love them today and play them during the holidays to get in the mood. At home, my mom has always had the holiday spirit! She played holiday music on the radio – The Jackson 5, Nat King Cole – while we all decorated the Christmas tree and my mom cooked food.
“It’s my favorite time of year and I always get my family together and we sing modern classics: Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child. I am also happy to be in a place where I can contribute. This year is a twist on a holiday favorite, ‘It’s the season.‘”
8. Victoria blade (WandaVision actress, solo musician)
“Christmas has always been a musically vibrant time for me. I have lots of fond memories of lugging gear around in winter weather to play sets at party gatherings, and I usually write a Christmas song every year. Since the pandemic and the complications of live performances, I have started a new tradition of playing a live set via Instagram Christmas Eve. I play a mix of old jazzy standards and original songs. It’s a fun and easy way to get together around music and spread some much needed good humor.
9. Malina Moye
“Christmas is one of my favorite holidays of the year. As a little child, we always opened our presents early in the morning on Christmas Day. So I still stick to that same tradition. My fiance and I wake up early on Christmas morning and open our presents. And I always check the cookies and milk that I left out the night before. True to fashion, Santa Claus always eats the two cookies I leave him!
“We then have a great breakfast, light our fireplace and visit our family and friends. Then later in the evening we have dinner, watch movies and laugh. No tradition is complete without looking It’s a wonderful life, and sing along with The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the cartoon version, of course). Happy Holidays to all !!!”
10. Julia Kugel (The hangers)
“The holiday season has always been special for The Coathangers. We have been meaning to have some free time to spend the season with family over our 10+ years of consistent touring. We’re known for listening to old classics, drinking spicy wine, and even making popcorn for the tree. These days we spend Christmas in deep contemplation and crippling anxiety! Thanks to the global pandemic and the madness of disinformation, even quiet family evenings are turning into politicized chaos. It’s a different kind of fun!
“In light of the past two years, we have new holiday traditions! As always, art and music are great escapees from the weight of the world and this unique holiday feeling. My new holiday tradition is to write and record music in an effort to cope with my own anxieties and hopefully help others overcome theirs. Tapping into the power of music moves us forward with love and respect for one another, in a spirit of gratitude and cooperation. Isn’t that the goal of this season? Other new traditions include turning off cell phones and really enjoying the precious time we spend together, taking COVID tests and vaccines, covering our mouths when we sneeze, and washing our hands constantly. Yay! Merry Christmas.”
11. Jake Shimabukuro
“Growing up in Hawaii, we listened to a lot of classic traditional Christmas carols while on vacation. Of course, there were a few that were unique to the islands. “Christmas Luau” and “Mele Kalikimaka” were broadcast on all local radio stations. During my recent tour, I performed a vacation medley of three songs that expressed my Christmas experiences in Hawaii. The songs I played were “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, “Ave Maria” and “Over The Rainbow (in the style of IZ)”.
12. Marie Lambert
“If I stay with my family in Everett, Washington, we usually walk until midnight mass in our church. My mom sings in the choir and usually has a solo and sure enough we all cry because she’s a literal angel. This is my favorite department because our rector is so captivating, the music is wonderful and the evening ends with a candlelit a cappella interpretation of “Silent Night”.
“We come home as a family and sing sweet Christmas carols on the way home (maybe with sprinkled Weezer), open our Christmas pajamas, and the family’s night owls stay awake and hang out. We haven’t been able to do that for the past two years with COVID and everyone’s schedules, but I can’t wait for us all to be together again!
13. Ricky Duran
“When I was younger, I remember my family getting together for family celebrations. My father would pull out the guitar or sit at the piano and sing Christmas classics like “Feliz Navidad”. But it was not all about Christmas. For us, it was a rare and special moment where we were all able to be together. We sang songs that everyone liked and that everyone could sing along to. I remember hearing a lot of Beatles and Spanish classics that my parents and uncles grew up on. Now I try to keep this tradition alive with my family and especially for all my nephews. For me, vacations are synonymous with family time and creating memories.