Listening to holiday music while wrapping presents or having family over is one way to get into the Christmas spirit.
METRO DETROIT — This holiday season will be different for many because of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a “Blue Christmas.”
While gatherings might be smaller — and even virtual, for some — one way to create a festive mood is to crank up the yuletide music while at home.
When wrapping stocking stuffers, decorating the tree or organizing gift wish lists, listening to Christmas carols is the ideal way to “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”
From traditional songs like “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to more latter-day hits, including Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” well, “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.”
It’s always season’s greetings when Geri Hofmann, her two daughters, three grandchildren and nieces gather at Hofmann’s St. Clair Shores residence to bake cookies as Christmas tunes from Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole ring in the season. Together, they make all kinds of cookies ricotta, snowballs, butterhorns, “S” shaped anise, and Italian fig treats known as “cucidatis.”
“We sing and we bake and be silly,” Hofmann, 69, said. “The table is full of flour, and we all have a bowl. We try to do one kind of cookie at a time.”
Another table set up in the living room is where the cookies cool. Hofmann freezes them but takes them out in time for Christmas Day.
“I think the more crowded, the more fun we have,” Hofmann said, adding that because of COVID-19, the get-together will be smaller this year. The annual baking tradition began with Hofmann’s mother decades ago.
Over at Ken Giorlando’s house in Eastpointe, it’s the old-world carols that set the mood. His four children grew up on them, and he’s introduced the music to his three grandchildren.
“They’re songs you are more likely not going to hear on the radio,” Giorlando, 59, said, noting artists such as Robin Petrie, Katie McMahon and Linda Russell. Must-hear songs every year for him are “The Boar’s Head Carol,” “All You That Are Good Fellows” and “On This Day Earth Shall Ring.”
“That’s as Christmas to my kids as is ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’” Giorlando said. “The more I listen to the old music, the more it becomes Christmas. When you have the tree lit and the candles going, it sounds like you’re drowning in the past.”
Giorlando first heard such melodies back in 1983 when visiting Greenfield Village in Dearborn with his wife, Patty.
“That hammered dulcimer kind of takes you back,” Giorlando said. At the time, the music buff worked at the now-closed Record Outlet in Roseville and started a search to find as much old-world Christmas music as he could. While he goes old-old-old school for the holidays, Giorlando also cues Ray Coniff, Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis at home, among countless others, including the modern-day hits.
“When it comes to Christmas music, I’m all over the place,” Karen Martellaro, 50, said. “I’m Italian, so I listen to ‘Dominick the Donkey’ and anything from Frank Sinatra. But ’80s Christmas music is where my heart really is.”
That includes Wham!’s “Last Christmas,” Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is also a top choice.
“It brings back good memories of when I was younger,” Martellaro said. “That’s when everyone in the family was present. The songs bring me back to that time.”
The Sterling Heights resident also gets into the lightheartedness of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
“That brings back good memories of when my kids were little,” she said. “My husband, Robert, really loves the old-fashioned Christmas music. It’s nice to hear the religious Christmas carols. Unfortunately, they don’t play them like they used to.”
When the Martellaro family puts up the Christmas tree, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” sets the tone. Despite COVID-19, Martellaro plans to have a Merry Christmas this year.
“I plan to celebrate and make good memories with my husband and children,” she said.
Local musician Vito Lafata is a self-described “super huge Christmas geek.” The St. Clair Shores resident has at least 100 CDs of Christmas music, plus another 50 vinyl albums of harmonious holiday songs.
“I have to start in October to get through everything,” Lafata, 62, said. “I drive my girlfriend, Sandy, crazy. I listen to my favorites first.”
Those would be the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the Bob Rivers parody CDs and jazz guitarist Joe Pass’ “Six-String Santa.”
“Cyndi Lauper did a great one called ‘Feels Like Christmas,’” Lafata said. Also on his personal list is “A Swingin’ Christmas” by Big Rhythm Band. “He did big band arrangements of all the Christmas songs with just guitar.”
The diehard Beatles fan has another favorite, “XMAS! The Beatmas,” from the Swedish band Rubber Band.
“They did Christmas songs to the theme of Beatles music,” Lafata said. “It’s very cool.”
Lafata also has recorded Christmas music with Mitch Albom for three “Christmas In Detroit” productions released several years back.
Howie Herula, 50, also gets into the Christmas spirit with music. When he gets together with friends, the punk, rock and heavy metal Christmas songs howl with some country and modern tunes mixed in.
“For relaxing and presents, it’s the classics and older songs all the way. My personal favorites are the Carpenters, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives and the big hits from Paul McCartney and John Lennon,” the Warren resident said in an email. “It definitely helps put me more in the mood — that’s the main reason I do it. Now that my grandmother is gone, it also reminds me of her and family Christmases in the past at her house.”
Herula also makes sure to see his mom for Christmas, although she lives three hours away, up north.
“Sometimes she will come down and stay with me, but usually I go up there to stay with her. It’s almost always more festive up there, and there’s more snow. December 24 through January 1 are the only days I want snow,” he said. “I also usually have a few friends over one day between Christmas and New Year’s, and a few of my friends do the same. Just so we can all get some quality time with each other during the holidays.”