Right about this time every year my parents would pull out our Christmas records. These were the compilations that gas stations used to sell for some minimal price, $1.99 or free with fill-up. We had maybe ten or twelve of them, jammed into three or four sleeves; the individual sleeves tended to get lost over time. The sleeves themselves usually had something like ornaments or stars adorned with the faces of the artists featured on the disks. The artists were the usual suspects, Andy Williams, Jack Jones, Steve and Eydie, plus always way too much Ray Coniff and Percy Faith.

This is one of my favorite songs from those compilations, a tribute to spending the holiday with a New Friend. The person is addressed as “you,” but there is no Sinatra-esque intimacy in this strident, outsized vocal: this is proclamation, not conversation. I love the way Goulet bites into the consonants:

     MarKKKK this holiday
     MarKKKK it well
     NoTTTTe how PPPPerfectly
     RRRRight it fell…

He is clearly VERY, VERY HAPPY. He is going to have a WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS. There is no option but to admire his determination, and, if you happen to the New Friend, to come along for the ride.

When I listened to my parents playing these records, which they would stack six at a time on the stereo and when those sides played through just flip the stack over, it seemed to me like there were maybe eight songs that were endlessly repeated by the different vocalists, a kind of Christmas Corn Canon. The vocalists rarely added anything new in their interpretations: Johnny Mathis might sing his “fa la la” ‘s a little faster, but for the most part these were note-for-note, rote-for-rote performances, fulfillments of a contractual obligation. And Christmas can definitely seem like that, something you do out of contractual obligation, a song you perform not because you can add anything but because the fans take comfort in hearing your voice saying the familiar.

My advice? Strive for more, but don’t discount that part entirely. Sometimes the expected gesture is the right one. Maybe that’s even what holidays are all about.