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Are you happy?

It’s a question you are supposed to answer with an affirmative. Hence it’s a question I dread hearing. In fact, I always counter that question by asking for a definition of happiness. Usually, people change the subject quickly after that. I know it’s unfair of me but nobody likes wet blankets, so that’s my way of getting out of the situation without lying or burdening anyone with my worries.

However, I still remember a time in my life when I would have just jumped in with an affirmative answer and back then, I would have meant it, too. When you are young, you seem to have all the answers. And no, that’s not sarcasm. I mean it. You have a much clearer world view than you do later on in life. Life somehow gets you dirty and makes you dubious of everything and everyone. Simple concepts become hard because you become aware of how different people are, how quickly things can change and how easy it is for things to go wrong. Happiness becomes a momentary lapse of reality, more a passing feeling than a permanent state of mind, except during the Christmas season when happiness seems to be compulsory. It’s during this season that even middle-aged, disillusioned dreamers, such as myself, put on a smile and have their little “Scrooge moment.”

Another aspect of the holidays is of course Christmas music that comes in just about as many packages as you can think of. A lot of it is cheesy; some of it is great. For quite a while now, my personal favorite has been Chris Rea’s “Driving Home For Christmas.” Unlike most Christmas songs, this track does not attempt to be larger than life nor is it overly dramatic. Rather it captures what I’d like to call a real moment: a person driving home to spend Christmas with his family, he’s excited and can’t wait “to see those faces.” It’s a beautiful moment that most of us have experienced. You’re stuck in traffic, a little bit late, the back of your car filled with Christmas presents, the radio’s blasting the usual holiday mix, and you’re already picturing the smiling faces greeting you when you walk in through the front door.

Driving home for Christmas
With a thousand memories
I take look at the driver next to me
He's just the same – just the same
Top to toe in tailbacks
Oh, I got red lights all around
I'm driving home for Christmas, yeah
Get my feet on holy ground
So I sing for you
Though you can't hear me
When I get through
Oh and feel you near me
Driving in my car

Driving home for Christmas

“Driving Home For Christmas” is a great track in that it has a wonderful atmosphere to it. It’s Christmassy without going overboard. You can listen to it even in the summer and enjoy it. It’s clearly more about going home to the people you love than it is about Christmas. I suppose you could argue that this is a song that defines the true spirit of Christmas more than it embodies it. I love the jazziness of the track, the clever piano, the beautiful string arrangement, the odd guitar lick here and there, and then there is the lead vocal that continues to send shivers down my spine. It’s spot on. This Chris Rea classic is one of those songs that will only grow on you year after year. I’ve been listening to it ever since it came out thirty years ago in 1988 and I’ve never appreciated it more than I do now.

Of course, as you can probably guess, listening to this tune brings back "a thousand memories" of my parents getting everything ready for Christmas Eve. I can still see it, my mom baking and my dad walking into the kitchen with a silly Christmas hat on, giving my mom a kiss and handing her a steaming mug of gloegg. I loved it. As a kid I could just sit back and enjoy. There was no stress involved with any of it. The only thing I had to do was clean my own room, get the tree with my dad and help my mom decorate it. However, having too much time on my hands before Christmas did get me in trouble a few times. 

I have always loved giving and getting presents and it’s still very difficult for me to wait until it’s time to open them. My parents knew me well enough to know that if I could get my hands on anything that had my name on it before Christmas, I would somehow find a way to check what I was getting. This was one of the reasons why they never left any of the presents at home but rather stored them in my dad’s office until the day before Christmas. They did this until 1988. At sixteen, my mom felt I was responsible enough not to touch the presents before the 24th. And so for the first time, they stored all of them in our attic a week before Christmas.

For the first few days, I was able to resist the temptation. Then, one day after school, when I was home alone, I made my way to the attic just to check how many presents I was getting. After all, what was the harm in that? I was only going to take a look. I collected all of mine in one big pile and noticed two in particular that interested me. Judging by their size and shape, these were CDs. “I’ll just check these two,” I thought. So I ran downstairs to fetch some Scotch tape, scissors, string and matching gift wrap. I can still remember my heart pounding as I began unwrapping the first CD-shaped present. Much to my chagrin and surprise, I pulled out an empty jewel case that had a large Post-it Note on it that said:

Your mother is naïve; I am not. Disappointed? Well, here’s a little wisdom to help with that: Don't be sad when a bird craps on your head. Be happy that in real life, reindeers can't fly. Love, Dad

Track Sponsor Of The Month: Effigy by The Impersonators

“Effigy” describes that moment in all our lives, when we realize that we‘ve grown tired of protecting our ego, that moment when we are done worrying about how we appear to others. Rather than wanting to be cool or important, we want to be happy and discover our true identity. And the best way to achieve this is to kill our ego.

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About the curator - Tommi Tikka

Tommi Tikka - Music to Curator

Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.