Even though (or maybe because) I'm an atheist, Christmas is my favorite time of the year ever since I moved to the West as a teenager, principally because of the music.
I joined the school Chapel Choir, and of course Christmas was the busiest time for us, having to learn all the carols for the annual Service of Lessons & Carols (modelled on King's College Choir, Cambridge), plus other Christmas music, usually including chorales and choruses from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah.
Like this lovely chorale Brich an, o schönes Morgenlicht
from Part 2 of Bach's Weihnachts-Oratorium:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7E0jM0F3M8
After my first school Christmas concert and service, the boarding school closed for two weeks, and I spent the holidays sharing a house with four other students. The surroundings were under two feet of snow (my first encounter with the white stuff), so in between building snow-people (of indeterminate sex and species) and having snow fights, I was listening non-stop to the complete Weihnachts-Oratorium, Messiah, Saint-Saëns's Oratorio de Noël and Britten's A Ceremony of Carols - all from BBC radio broadcasts, in my room. Sheer bliss! The other students thought I was really odd (none of them were in the choir, nor into classical music), but that didn't matter, as I'd always known I was odd
In my final year at the high school, I had the most memorable Christmas service - the choir sounded the best it had ever sounded (not just according to me, but also in our choirmaster's opinion), the pure-toned girl soprano who sang the solo opening verse of Once in Royal David's City was stunning (she subsequently went to a music conservatoire and eventually became a member of one of the professional British choirs specializing in early music and Baroque), and there were a few exceptional boy trebles joining the sopranos, giving a fresh sound to the top line, and my (baritone) voice had matured by then
Fast forward several decades (during which I sang intermittently in various choirs), and a few years ago, I was called upon (at less than 24 hours' notice) to replace an indisposed piano accompanist for the annual Christmas concert in a hospital, where the audience got to choose what they wanted to sing from a long list when they arrived. I brought my Carols for Choirs
books, hoping they would choose traditional carols, so I could easily sight-read the four-part choral/organ parts in the books, but instead, most of their selections were of pop songs, a few of which had only a passing reference to Christmas.....and most of which I'd never heard before. With no idea of how the songs were meant to go, and reading mostly from the fake books provided by the organizer, I had to improvise on the spot, asking the audience to sing the first line a cappella after I played the first chord and the melodic line, so that I could get an idea of how fast the song was meant to be, and whether it was rhythmic & jaunty or ballad-like. Then we started again from the beginning, with my improvised accompaniment based on what I thought was appropriate to the song. Apparently, some of my accompaniments took the audience by surprise (they'd never heard such a version before and will probably never hear it again
), but everyone had a great time and there were plenty of laughs. Someone told me afterwards that I turned some of the songs into classical music (with the rolling arpeggios I threw in), which I took as a compliment