Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

From Baking to Seduction: The Inspiration of Christmas Carols

“I abhor holiday music.  It’s so commercialized and so annoying…”



I felt as if I had been stabbed.  How could someone  have such an aversion to a lyrical outpouring of glee? Were the songs I sang at the top of my lungs every December just serving to destroy other’s eardrums?  Did no one else hear “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and temporarily stop to “dismay?!”

I became defensive, wanting to drastically promote the health benefits of my holiday playlist.  Didn’t “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bell Rock” encourage exercise?  Didn’t we all want to go “a wassailing” and get to know our neighbors better? And didn’t we romantically “stay a little longer” encouraged by “Baby It’s Cold Outside?”

Christmas music, in my mind, was the opposite of annoying.  Rather, it was inspiring.

Silent Night:  Upstate New York, 1988.

Every year my family bundled up to sing Christmas carols around our colonial style neighborhood, called “The Glen.”  I originally braved the cold and four feet high snow banks in faux pearls and sequins, hoping I’d be ‘discovered’ by Star Search.  I expected Ed McMahon to appear in the doorstop of Mrs. Thompson and exclaim. “Why, who is that beautiful little girl with the impressive soprano?”  Needless to say, this didn’t happen.  What did happen was that one year my brother decided to learn sign language so that he could better communicate with the deaf kids at school.  He taught it to me via the lyrics of Silent Night.  In addition to signing, we also signed “Silent Night” on our caroling rounds, transcending verbal language, making the song available to everyone. Be able to sing to the deaf was far more rewarding that being sent to Star Search and far better for the world’s eardrums.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: San Francisco 2005-2012.

This song is a regular when I bake my annual Isern holiday cookies. Julie Garland immortalized the song in the 40’s as she sang about forgetting life’s troubles and focusing on those around us.  It’s a quick song, but one that makes you realize that the best things we have are NOT  material ‘things’, but the “faithful friends who are dear to us…”

It is the perfect song to honor my relatives as I roll out the same dough that they used to.  My recipes are passed down to me from my mother, from her mother, from her mother, who baked them in her small kitchen in a ranch in Montana.  I now make the cookies with my little cousin in my minuscule San Francisco kitchen.  After baking five different batches, we construct large plates to pass out around to our faithful friends. The only change we make is to the gingerbread…we play around with the icing to make x rated versions.  We figured our ‘faithful friends’ would be ‘more faithful’ if we gave them well hung gingerbread men.

‘Baby it’s Cold Outside’:  San Francisco, 2007.

This song, written in the 1940’s, cleverly summarizes what my good friend Ali always called the “Yes-No “ Dance.  The “Yes-No” Dance is where a woman attempts to remain elusive and disinterested, although she’s secretly dying to get naked and make wild jungle love. During the holidays, the ‘yes’ of the ‘yes no’ pull is heightened by cold weather. Men can more easily find reasons for a woman to stay the night “Oh, baby, you’ll freeze out there…” and women can more easily find excuses to forgo their need to be responsible. “Maybe just a half a drink more…”  Spiked eggnog, after all, only happens once a year.

One year this song encouraged me to stop the “no” of the yes no dance and give into seduction by a man that was pursuing me.  I hung mistletoe from my living room ceiling, invited him over, poured the wine, and blasted the song from my ipod.  This holiday seduction turned into a relationship-one I never were have had the guts to develop had it not been for the cold weather. (postscript 2013—-we ended the relationship in summer.  There isn’t yet a song for “Baby, it’s hot outside”).

There are numerous other holiday songs that have brought warmth to my heart and changes to my life.  I hope, that instead of being annoyed by the music, others think through what it means, how it inspires, and use to open their hearts to the greater world around them.

“Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”

~ Joan Winmill Brown, American author and editor.

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