We pause, in the gathering darkness of the global economy, to celebrate songs of light that give December exalted meaning. In the manner of the ancient Greeks I shall now pass over the programming of Christmas songs choc-a-block on the right side of the FM dial, the better to endorse Baby Face’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is available on All Star Christmas courtesy of the Epic label. Baby Face croons for the ages on this one; so does Al Green on “I’ll be Home for Christmas” with just the soul rocking we expect of the Memphis preacher man. I suppose it’s fitting in the iPod Age – with the record industry tanking, courtesy of cyberspace’s new frontier of piratical capitalism – to close this paragraph with the only other recommendation of the 17 on this otherwise forgettable disc: Gloria Estefan, Christmas Through Your Eyes.

Yes, Gloria Estefan, the most underrated yuletide vocalist in America. You read it here in New Orleans Magazine, before any place else.

Raymond Myles, sadly missed, who rose from the St. Bernard housing project to become a gospel powerhouse, sings (note the present tense, an indicator of eternity) a stem-winding version of “We Three Kings” on Allen Toussaint & Friends: A New Orleans Christmas on the old NYNO label. Hearing Myles’ rolling, tremulous baritone reaching for falsetto pulls one’s thoughts across the memory track to Bishop Paul Morton’s eulogy at Myles’ funeral, out in eastern New Orleans in a church since demolished by the flood. Morton cited Psalms 137, the Israelites in captivity having left their harps in a tree on the other side of a river. (A version of this sermon, delivered by Rev. Christian Fraux, appears in the wake for Gov. Rex LaSalle in Last of the Red Hot Poppas, recommended for your gift giving.) The point of Morton’s sermon, as people all around him wept, was that Raymond Myles’s death was a transition, and his song – like the Israelites’ harps – must play on.

I think of Myles every December when another buried singer, Bing Crosby, comes alive with “White Christmas,” a song so pervasive on the radio it seems to appear every time you blink. What does it take to create a Christmas classic, beyond emulating how someone famous did it before? The floating fiddle work of Beusoleil’s Michael Doucet on “We Three Kings” achieves a slow, hypnotic quality, until he hits the bridge and revs up the tempo in a segue to a Cajun stomp. From the cradle of humanity to Acadiana and back again. Wonderful cut on A Putumayo World Christmas. (Yes, Virginia, we have mentioned this CD once in seasons past, if only in a quasi-endorsement, without mention of Doucet’s merit; hence a Doucet shout-out for 2008.)

On the thickening shelf of December music, where I find myself pulling down CDs to replace the usual suspects on the turntable, Wolcum: Celtic and British Songs and Carols Yule Anonymous has long reach. This lovely disc featuring Andrew Lawrence-King’s virtuoso harp crept into my tone flow in the ebbing days of 2006. I was so entranced by the handling of John Tavener’s rendition of William Blake’s “The Lamb” (from Songs of Innocence) that I kept the disc in the groove for a pacific January soundtrack to soften my broodings about the human experiment each time I stole away from the workstation back of the house. I will admit the spirits lifted as I passed through the clouds of those female a cappella voices with sonorous reminders of Gregorian chant, albeit in English:

Little Lamb who
  made thee
Dost thou know who
  made thee
Gave thee life & bid
  thee feed
By the stream &
  o’er the mead…

You can’t go wrong with William Blake this time of year.

The Celts fused the fires and candlelit ceremonies of pagan memory with the calendar of Christianity. The evergreens they laced inside their homes were a symbol of life in winter darkness. “Carole” in old French refers to circular dances as the singers intoned their refrains. Many of the Christmas songs have come down to us from Celt and Anglo-Saxon folk roots, like “The Cherry Tree Carol” on this particular CD, in which the fruit borne of the tree harks back to “the Tree of Life in the garden of Eden, and the Irish Tree of Wisdom,” as the liner notes remind us.

Perhaps that’s why I had it on the CD tray the day before Thanksgiving. It ran successfully through the Rose Bowl.