Make it Christmas in July

Chris JonesAdmit it: you’re already starting to feel the Christmas spirit, at least just a little. You have to be; we’re already fighting about disposable coffee cups and other sacred symbols, and your drunk uncle hasn’t even arrived yet for Thanksgiving to weigh in on the issue.

By the way, why is it always the “drunk uncle”? Doesn’t anyone besides me have experience with drunk aunts, cousins, or grandmas? In keeping with the spirit of last week’s column, I hereby apologize to uncles everywhere, drunk or sober, for succumbing to the unfair cliché.

But as I was saying, the Christmas spirit is already in the air, especially in Canada, where Thanksgiving already happened last month, and people are already plugging in their vehicles. This is naturally the time that many bluegrass recording artists will be thinking about releasing that Christmas album they’ve always dreamed of.

There are many sound reasons for recording a Christmas album. For example, it’s a great thing to sell at those December gigs we get so many of every year (please stop laughing, at least openly). Then there’s the fact that it’s the only time it’s socially acceptable to add triangle and harp to a bluegrass recording. Yes, it’s time to do it.

The problem, of course, is that by the time you’ve booked the studio time and the musicians, gotten the material together, and taken some wintry pictures, it’s already early December. This means you’re likely to have product in hand just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Is it too late to change this to an Irish-themed Christmas album, you’re wondering?

No, the fact is that Christmas albums really need to be recorded some time in the middle of the summer. This has always presented a challenge for artists wanting to be in the Christmas spirit while it’s sweltering outside and the summer Olympics are on television. How do you simulate the spirit in a distinctly non-Christmassy atmosphere?

I’ve heard of singers stringing colored lights around the studio, or even decorating a tree and making it visible from the vocal booth. This works for those with a pretty good imagination, but for others, these little surface changes just don’t do enough to get you in the mood to sing that new version of Christmas Time’s a-Comin’ you know the world is waiting for.

Below are some recommendations for kindling the Christmas spirit in a way that will truly make it “Christmas in July”:

  • Do all your Christmas shopping the week before you go in to record. True, the stores won’t be appropriately decorated or particularly crowded, but you can at least simulate the “Black Friday” environment by getting some friends to camp out overnight with you outside a shopping mall, waiting for it to open up in the morning, then race each other to see who can make the first purchase. You’ll also have that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with sinking into credit card debt, but this way, you may actually get at least part of it paid off by the time real Christmas comes along.
  • Invite the most contentious members of your family over for a get-together, serve some eggnog and cookies, and bring up fun topics of conversation, like Starbucks’ cup design, whether Christmas is a secular or a religious holiday, or whether or not Bill Monroe recorded with an organ of his own free will. Consider getting out your favorite board game and fighting about the rules.
  • In order to serve eggnog in the middle of the summer, you’ll have to make it yourself (never serve eggnog purchased the previous December!). Here’s a recipe:


6 parts egg

3 parts nog

Serve chilled


6 parts egg

3 parts nog

3 parts whatever liquor is in the house

Serve any old way, but serve cautiously to drunk aunt.

  • Disconnect some spark plugs just before you go into a store so you can have that December feeling of having your car not start when you get back to it (people in northern climates will understand this holiday tradition).
  • Overschedule the entire month with various social engagements, some of which you’ll have to plan and host yourself. This would also be a good time to work in non-essential appointments with doctors, dentists, luthiers, etc. just to add to the frenzied feeling.

When you get to the studio, go beyond stringing up a few lights, or hanging a decoration or two:

  • Bring in a real evergreen tree, which you have cut yourself, preferably from the yard of a disliked neighbor.
  • Rent a snowmaking machine, then bring in wheelbarrows-full of real (artificial) snow and spread it around the studio (then record quickly).
  • Bring in children to make a snowman from this same snow while you record. The noise they make will just provide more ambience for your recording.
  • Put a small dab of turkey gravy on all the lightbulbs in the studio (thank you, Stuart McLean), to give the impression that the engineer is preparing a big Christmas feast for you and your band (even though it’ll actually be lukewarm coffee and a bowl of peanuts).
  • Hang tinsel generously on the banjo player.

Last, but not least:

  • Gain 10 pounds.

Remember, if it’s not really “the most wonderful time of the year,” it’s up to you to make it that way. Otherwise, prepare to record “Rudolph the Red-nosed Leprechaun” (CD release date: March 17th).