Tag Archives: Christmas

Ten Holiday Albums to Stream Right Now

Last year, our music and film specialists at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main offered up their suggestions for holiday tunes that were a little off the beaten path. This year we’re making it even easier—here are ten albums we recommend that you can download or stream right now through the library with Hoopla. (And if you don’t yet have a Hoopla account, you can learn more about it here.)

The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album

If gloomy winter weather is getting you down, there is really no better balm than the sunny California sounds of the Beach Boys.



A Charlie Brown Christmas

Has there ever been a more maudlin song that included lyrics like, “Christmastime is here/Happiness and cheer”?  For me, this album perfectly sums up the holidays with its mixture of joy and bitter sweet nostalgia.


Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas

This is one of the funnest, jazziest holiday albums around. Ella Fitzgerald belts out classics from the raucous “Jingle Bells” to the wistful “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” Highly recommended.


The Christmas Collection: Elvis Presley

If you’re looking to make it a blue Christmas, look no further than The King. This album is one half rockin’, one half bluesy gospel and all great.


Get down for Christmas with the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & The MG’s.



Christmas albums do not get any funkier than this. You cannot go wrong with James Brown.

Make it a Rat Pack Christmas with the jazzy, loungey vocal stylings of one Frank Sinatra.



The 25th Day Of December – The Staples Singers

The Staple Singers are well known for their R&B hits of the late 60s and early 70s, but prior to that, they were a really groovy gospel group. The Staple sisters all have wonderful voices, but it’s Pops Staples work on the steel guitar that really makes these gospel tunes something special.



The Ventures Christmas Album

Like the Beach Boys, the Ventures are sure to cheer any listener up on a gloomy day with their swinging surf-rock melodies.




The Ultimate Motown Christmas Collection

Nearly two hours of holiday music from the likes of the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. Put your dancing shoes on and enjoy!


Happy Rockin’ Holidays,



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My Top 5 Favorite Christmas Songs

It’s that time of year again (the most wonderful time of year, according to some people) where you hear Christmas music just about everywhere you go. This drives some people crazy, but I enjoy it. Christmas music holds a special place in my heart, and I have a few favorites I’ll list here.

5. “Every Year, Every Christmas” by Luther Vandross

This song is actually very sad because Vandross is singing about a lost love. The song is sung so beautifully that you almost forget what it’s about.  You can find this song and others on Vandross’ Christmas CD, which is available in our catalog.

4. “This Christmas” by Chris Brown

While nothing compares to the original, I really enjoy Chris Brown’s version of this Christmas classic. He put his own modern twist to the song. The song is on the soundtrack for the movie with the same name; you can download it on Freegal.

3. “Last Christmas” by Wham!

I know! I know! Everything about this song is cheesy, from the music video, to the lyrics, to the single cover, but I don’t care! I love this song. I look forward to Wish 99.7 playing it a million times during the holiday season. I also have it on my iPod, and I’m not ashamed to admit, that either. This song is for everyone who has gotten their heart broken during the holiday season, and it’s also available to download via Freegal.

2. “Let It Snow” by Boyz II Men featuring Brian McKnight

Mixing Brian McKnight and Boyz II Men results in harmonic gold on this tune! This song makes you want to cuddle up by a fireplace with that special someone (or in my case makes me wish that I had a special someone). This song can be found on their Christmas CD, Christmas Interpretations, which also features their wonderful rendition of “Silent Night.”

1. “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey

When the holiday season arrives this is my go-to song to play. If I went out to karaoke during the holiday season this is the song that I would sing. Now if I would hit that high note toward the end is a different story. This is another one of those songs that can make you think of that special someone. It’s very cute and fun. This song is featured on Carey’s wonderful album, Merry Christmas.

Now let’s hear about some of your favorites! Tell us in the comments below. Happy holidays!



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Sentimental Favorites

It’s hard to knock someone for their favorite Christmas movie. I think more than any other films, these are the movies we have the biggest emotional connection with. They’re tied to very specific memories, especially those from our childhoods.


Absolutely, yes.  (I recommend the 2005 release for the re-addition of the “When Love is Gone” number. Schmaltzy? Sure. Necessary to the story? Yes.). You can’t beat the combination of Muppets and classic literature. But more than Muppets and a timeless story, this movie is also about spending time with my sister, giggling at Rizzo and Gonzo, singing along to the music and rooting for Robin as Tiny Tim.

Christmas Vacation is a close runner up (Did you know that the actress who played Aunt Bethany, Mae Questel, had a pretty amazing career as a voice actress with two iconic characters to her credit – Betty Boop and Olive Oyl!) I think it gets funnier with every viewing, really.

I can also appreciate movies that don’t immediately jump out at you as traditionally “Christmas Movies.” My best friend would say his favorite is Batman Returns  and I know plenty of people swear by Die Hard. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I also think of Little Women, especially the 1994 version, as a holiday movie.

Are there any you feel strongly loyal to?


– Jess, who is singing Muppet songs to herself now


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Christmas at the Movies

I am not a Scrooge.

But I will admit that I am one of those people who do not like the holidays (except as days off from work!). I think it’s because they happen to have the misfortune to occur during my least favorite season of the year. When the holidays come around, I just want to leave town with a suitcase full of books (or e-books on my Nook!).

But I do enjoy the traditional carols and music–appropriately played only between Thanksgiving and Epiphany (or Twelfth Night if you’re British, thank you very much)–and I have some favorite holiday movies as well. But they’re not what you’d think of as the most popular.

Photo source: Tailgate365.com

A Christmas Carol (1984, with George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, this is the most poignant and faithful performance I’ve ever seen)

Miracle on 34th Street (the 1947 version only, please!; this is my Thanksgiving Eve tradition, while I also make homemade cranberry sauce…)

 The Nutcracker (the 1977 television special with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland; for more Nutcracker love, click here)

Little Women(1994) (Those Victorians started all this commercial Christmas nonsense)

 Scrooge (1970) (the British movie musical starring Albert Finney has some wonderfully catchy songs)

When Harry Met Sally (for its momentous holiday scenes)

 The Homecoming (I’m a child of the 1970s and this beautiful movie was the pilot for The Waltons)

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!



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A Nutcracker Tribute

When I was four years old, my mother enrolled me in ballet school. It was one of those things she had always wanted to try but, as a working class child growing up in Detroit, it was a luxury her family could not afford. As a result, I was exposed to not only the classical world of ballet and the rigors of training, but also to the most beautiful music in the world. I danced parts in both  Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake (music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky) and, of course, every December, The Nutcracker. While I have grown to love and appreciate all of Tchaikovsky’s music, The Nutcracker holds a very special place in my heart.

I know it is ubiquitous during the holidays and it is tirelessly performed by both large –to my deep dismay, there is no live orchestra during this performance!–and small dance companies, but I take my holiday music very seriously; it’s one of my personal holiday traditions.

Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky

The Nutcracker ballet premiered in Russia in 1892, to disappointing reviews however, in America, the music was highly praised and with good reason. With its clever nuances, dramatic melodies, building tension sequences, and ornamental highlights of different instruments (the flute being my particular favorite), my own dream is to see a major symphony orchestra perform this entire masterpiece–not highlights!–without the ballet (how about it, Pittsburgh Symphony?). It has as much drama and excitement as watching the actual ballet performance, sometimes even more. I’m not a music critic or even a professional musician, but the music of this ballet entrances me. It can be quiet and relaxing and it can be exciting and loud.

The library has many ways for you to enjoy The Nutcracker on compact disc or streaming, book, or DVD. My personal favorites are the recording with Anton Dorati and the London Symphony Orchestra and the 1977 made-for-television ballet starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gelsey Kirkland, but there are more versions than you can count of both the recording and the ballet. If you’re a musician, there is also the score and, if you want to read the story, we have that too.


who, from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, blissfully listens to The Nutcracker on repeat


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Holiday Fun from Uncle Sam

Surprisingly, government documents aren’t the first thing to come to mind when most people think of the holidays.  And yet– government documents librarians in all kinds of libraries are probably thinking just that.  And did you know that CLP is a Federal Depository Library? We’re happy to help you find all kinds of government resources, but here are a few that might get you in the holiday spirit:

President Truman accepting a menorah from David Ben-Gurion, Prime Minister of Israel, in 1951. Photo from the National Archives.

The National Archive’s photo stream on flickr: Of course the National Archives is the go-to place for older images of the holidays, and their flickr collection is a great way to browse through some of their sizeable collection from the comfort of your home (or the library!)  Their holiday set of photos isn’t limited to Christmas pictures; you’ll find photographs, fliers, and other images that relate to many different holidays.  (Added bonus: the collection is listed as having “no known copyright restrictions, which means you can feel free to use the photographs as long as you credit the National Archives.)

Christmas in the Field- Through the Years: This collection of photographs from the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History features images from the holidays during World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq/Afganistan War (2004).  Although it’s a relatively small collection, the images are poignant.

American Memory from the Library of Congress: You’ll find lots of holiday images, texts, songs, and films here!  Just search the site for “Christmas (or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate) and you’ll find a list of what’s in this collection.  A few things that caught my eye in this archive were a collection of writings from Minnesota pioneers about ways of celebrating the winter holidays; fiddler Henry Reed playing Christmas songs; and an article from a 1905 edition of the Cleveland Journal titled Holiday Meditations about race issues. 

A poster from the Office of Emergency Management, Office of War Information, 1941-1945. Photo from the National Archives.


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The Holidays Are Murder!

Picture of a meat cleaver


I know, I know. You’re all going to start thinking that I hate the holidays, since my last post talked about how depressing they could be, and this one is about death and mayhem during the season. But I swear, it’s not true. I love the holidays with their colorful decorations, tasty food, friends and family gathered together, present-opening and the snow. (Yes, I even like snow!) But a blogger does need a topic to write about, and since I love mysteries, especially the cozy ones, this topic seems to fit. 

So here is a list of newish holiday themed mysteries the library owns. If you can barely keep from murdering your family during the holidays, maybe you’d like to read about someone else’s demise at the hands of another.

Busy Body by M.C. BeatonBusy Body: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by  M.C. Beaton. A new town officer shows up and bans holiday decorations. Agatha Raisin is called upon to find his killer when he is murdered. That will teach you to be a Scrooge!


Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne FlukeGingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie Meier. A trio of gingerbread themed cozies. First, someone is found murdered next to a box of cookies. Second, the lead in a local theatre production dies in the final scene. Lastly, a young boy disappears and the race  is on to find him. Wow, cookies really are bad for you. Recipes included! 


Forbidden Fruit by Kerry GreenwoodForbidden Fruit: A Corinna Chapman Mystery by Kerry Greenwood. Two runaway teens (one about to give birth), a rosewater muffin loving donkey, scorching Australian summer in December and a gaggle of carol singing vegans. What more could you want from a holiday mystery?


Christmas Mourning by Margaret MaronChristmas Mourning by Margaret Maron. Teenagers in town are dying, first in car crashes and then by murder. Turns out there are connections to a crime from years ago. Will the mystery be solved before more people’s holidays are ruined?


Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop, edited by Otto PenzlerChristmas at the Mysterious Bookshop: ‘Tis the Season to Be Deadly: Stories of Mistletoe and Mayhem from 17 Masters of Suspense edited by Otto Penzler. Some of the biggest names in mystery and suspense contribute stories to an annual tradition at Penzler’s famous Mysterious Bookstore in Manhattan. Each year, Penzler asks a writer to set a short story in his shop and gives the piece out to his customers as a holiday gift. This is the first published compilation of those stories.

A Christmas Odyssey by Anne PerryA Christmas Odyssey: A Novel by Anne Perry. Mathematician Henry Rathbone enlists help in locating the son of a friend. Before long they realize the missing young man works for people who belong on Santa’s naughty list and Rathbone and company have to help him get out.

Now go out and enjoy those holidays! I mean it!

-Melissa M.

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Santa, Sweetie: Bring Chanel

“Chanel, Dior, Lagerfeld, Givenchy, Gaultier, darling!   Names, names, names!”
–Jennifer Saunders as Edina Monsoon, Absolutely Fabulous

Santa, darling:

You’ve never let me down before, so I’m pretty confident you can make my 2009 holiday dream a reality.  All I want for Christmas this year is a little black Chanel suit.

Not Lagerfeld-era Chanel, mind you, though I’ve nothing against the gentleman personally.  But, darn it, I’m a librarian of old-school taste and class. Ergo, I want Chanel Chanel.  The genuine article.  The real deal.  That’s not so much to ask, is it, Santa? Just one, teensy, vintage, piece of classic couture?

Obviously I don’t expect you to bring it straight to my house.  Pittsburgh is simply crawling with fabulous places to find fashion treasures.  So I’ll tell you what, Santa-pumpkin:  I’ll combine my librarian wiles with loads of legwork, and you can just leave the suit somewhere here in town where I’m likely to find it.

Deal, or no deal?

Why don’t you sleep on it, sweetie?  I know this is a really busy time of year for you.  Keep in mind, though, I’m not really asking just for myself.  I’m asking for all the fashionable women here in the ‘burgh who have champagne taste and root beer budgets.  I’m asking for all those women who still don’t know — or just can’t master — the arts of knitting and sewing. I’m asking for everybody who stays positive and works hard.  So what do you say, Santa?  I’ve been saving my pennies; won’t you make me a shiny example of a bona fide Christmas miracle?


Leigh Anne


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Made With Love

Every year I have grand plans for all the homemade holiday gifts I plan on giving everyone, and often by the time December rolls around I’m in the midst of a full-on holiday freakout.  (It isn’t unusual for my family members to receive polaroids of half-knitted socks). If you find yourself in a similar situation, here are a few suggestions that might help you out, depending on how much time you have to devote to crafting:

Have two months, or close to it?  You have time to do practically whatever you want!  Knit a sweater, crochet a blanket, or design and make your own holiday cards

Have a month?  Drinks like limoncello or fragolino make festive gifts, and take about a month for the flavors to infuse.  Try the fragolino recipe in Olives & Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. 

Have a weekend?  One Skein Wonders: 101 Yarn Shop Favorites, edited by Judith Durant, features quick projects that use only one skein of yarn.  There are projects for a wide variety of yarn types, so chances are good you already have something in your stash that you can work with. 

Have a day?  Homemade soaps or spa products make great gifts.  Get some inspiration from books like Natural Soapmaking by Marie Browning, or Organic Body Care Recipes: 175 Homemade Herbal Formulas for Glowing Skin & a Vibrant Self by Stephanie Tourles. 

Have a few hours?  Everyone loves cookies around the holidays, and even at the last minute they make a great handmade gift.  Books like The International Cookie Cookbook will help you find something creative enough to gift, but easy enough to whip up in a few hours. 


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The Man Who Invented Christmas

I don’t read the newspaper very carefully in December. I’m short on time to complete holiday projects, and I do what I can to conserve hours. As I race and skim through the national, regional, business and arts news, one recurring theme catches my attention. Articles that mention Charles Dickens and his holiday story A Christmas Carol seem to appear daily.

Federal Theatre Marionettes present “A Christmas Carol.” Works Progress Administration. From the Library of Congress’s collection: “By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943”

I’ve heard a lot of conversation about a leaner (and perhaps more meaningful) Christmas this year. Newspapers are filled with tales of the uncertain economic climate, and the connections between the economy and the nature of family, community, and national celebrations. A recurring message in the media is that our holiday traditions and expectations require revision in light of the reality of banking disasters, unemployment, rising prices. Whatever the reason, Dickens and the notorious Scrooge are receiving a lot of press.


Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0001069. 1902 photo, courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society, included in Library Of Congress American Memory, online historical collections.

Dickens suffered humiliation at age twelve, when his father was sent to debtors prison. He wrote A Christmas Carol to raise public awareness of England’s poor, especially children. One recent article I read stated, “And today, in the midst of the worst economy in more than 50 years, his story gains new resonance.”

Dickens deserves credit for popularizing the elements that define a traditional Christmas, like roast turkey and mulled wine, and as one article put it, A Christmas Carol “set the tone for Christmas as we know it today: a season of generosity, feasting, and merriment.” Dickens’ legacy also includes an awareness and focus on sharing with people in need. Scrooge embraces the spirit of generosity, and has been an example since 1843. Les Standiford, author of The Man Who Invented Christmas was quoted as saying, “When you walk out of a store at Christmastime this year and see someone standing there beside an iron pot and clanging a bell, make no mistake about it. That is really Charles Dickens standing there, reminding you of the right thing to do.”

For further reading:

xmasInventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be




battlechristmasThe Battle for Christmas







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