Isn’t it funny how a smell can instantly take you back to a time and a place where you first experienced it? For me, when I smell crayons, I’m six years old, and back-to-school supply shopping. My mom would take me and my platoon of siblings to Kmart, long before the invention of the world’s largest retailer. There we’d be, each clutching a supply list, getting everything we’d need to tackle the exciting new school year.Songs jog the senses the same way, too. This probably explains why Christmas albums by artists like Nat King Cole, Jonny Mathis, Andy Williams, and the Carpenters get dusted off each holiday season. As people immerse themselves in the familiar songs of the past, they remember sharing them with loved ones while celebrating Christmases of years gone by. Those songs become a kind of tangible tether to Christmases past — especially if those loved ones are no longer here to share the season with us. At least, that’s how it works for me, especially when I hear the ‘Snoopy vs. the Red Baron / Christmas Bells’ song by the Royal Guardsmen.
When I hear that obscure but familiar tune, I’m instantly transported to the living room of the house I lived in as a kid. I can see the striped wallpaper and the pineapple print sofa, and feel the rust-brown carpet beneath my feet. (Don’t judge – I’m sure it was fashionable at one point.) I watch as my dad roughhouses with my younger brothers, acting out the fighter plane battle as the scenes unfold in the song. As the song-battle heats up, the rowdiness quotient in the room increases dramatically, so that by the end of the song, both brothers end up in a giggling heap on the floor. My dad, pleased that holiday cheer has been adequately spread, was then free to play his own choice of holiday records. But he always seemed to succumb to my brothers’ excited pleas for “Just one more time, dad!” and “Again! Again!”
Little did we know, that would be one of the last Christmases he’d spend with us. While he was alive, my parents always did Christmas in a really big way — which was no small feat, considering we were a family of eight. We always had lots of handmade ornaments on the tree, and plenty of packages under it. But the memory stirred up by that silly song is the best gift I remember getting, and is the closest to my heart.
Since you may not be familiar with the tune, I’ll share the last few lyrics: “Christmas bells, those Christmas bells /ringing through the land/bringing peace to all the world/ and good will to man.”