Holiday Traditions from Dan Wilson, Mason Jennings, and more

Categories: Holiday
Dan Wilson, Mason Jennings, Justin Pierre, Kevin Bowe
December is quickly coming to a close and local musicians are helping us give a new definition to the term, "Jingle Bell Rock." No matter if they celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, or just the spirit of the season, many area artists shared their holiday traditions with me. For some, long-standing traditions come into play, for others, it's a chance to reflect on the past year and celebrate the new one.

Dozens of local musicians took the time to speak to Gimme Noise about what they are looking forward to this holiday season, including the songs that they are most grateful for.

Mason Jennings

Favorite holiday memory:
Christmas eve with my wife and boys, coming home from church and the feeling in the house.

What is a favorite holiday tradition of yours? There are a ton. My wife's parents always make lefse for us and that's been pretty amazing. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I had never heard of lefse...

What are you looking forward to the most this holiday season? Being with family, being at church a lot, community, friends, God's love, hope, conversations about faith, conversations about Jesus, music, the smiles on my kid's faces, spending time with my wife.

Favorite holiday song:
"It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"

Dan Wilson of Dan Wilson/Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare

Favorite holiday memory: When my brother Matt and I were very young, we were in Appleton, Minnesota for Christmas, at my grandparents' house. This house was where our Mom had grown up. It was tiny by our suburban Minneapolis standards, and the two bedrooms upstairs were all eaves, no ceiling, very cozy. When we visited, Matt and I shared the bed with our Grandpa Duke (Grandma slept in a bedroom on the first floor). Duke was a big, strong ex-carpenter and soldier who had built lots of the houses in this small town. He had a huge, resonant speaking voice, with a slight but still-recognizable accent from his childhood in Germany.

Anyway, this Christmas Eve, Matt and I were upstairs excitedly trying to fall asleep in our Grandpa's bed while the adults were all still in the kitchen preparing for the next day's feasting. Suddenly there was a banging sound and a very loud, deep and resonant "Ho! Ho! Ho!" from down the stairs. Matt and I jumped up in the bed. We ran down to the living room, which was empty. But there was a scattering of snow in the fireplace, leading in a trail to the Christmas tree. And under the tree was a pile of extra presents which we hadn't seen earlier. The adults, bless them, at this point all came bustling out from the kitchen, saying, "Did you hear that? What was that? It sounded like someone saying, 'Ho! Ho! Ho!' Who could it have been? Look at the snow in the fireplace!" etc. I vividly remember that a small part of my brain thought that the "Ho! Ho! Ho!" sounded suspiciously like my Grandpa Duke's amazingly resonant voice. But a much bigger part of my little brain wanted to believe it had been Santa Claus, and so for years I was able to believe that I'd heard Santa Claus' actual laugh.

What is a favorite holiday tradition of yours? My holiday traditions used to include a lot of TV shows: "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" with its great songs, probably some Charlie Brown holiday special too. My extended family was always willing to sing Christmas carols together, so when I got old enough to play those songs on the piano, I was sometimes the ringleader for family singing. Even though I'm not religious, I like religious rituals, the more ritualized the better. So after I married into a Catholic family, going to Mass on Christmas became a comforting tradition.

My family also had a tradition of serving a "flaming plum duff" on Christmas dinner. It was a British-looking pudding or pie soaked in rum (or brandy?) and set aflame on the way to the table. The flames were always kind of fleeting and pale blue - very unsatisfying for any kid born after 1960 and weaned on Star Wars explosions. My brother and sister and I would have been more impressed if the plum duff had exploded like the death star, I'm sure. This plum duff had a butter-and-brandy sauce which I would have drunk directly from the pitcher if that had been socially acceptable. Instead I soaked my portion of pudding in sauce as though pouring milk into a bowl of cheerios.

What are you looking forward to the most this holiday season? I can't wait to see my extended family.

Favorite holiday song: "Joy! to the World." That D major seventh chord of the second note of the song ("to") kills me every time. Followed closely by "The Christmas Song," the one with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. (It's a hoggish title, I have to add - what kind of world would we live in if every egomaniac who wrote a Christmas song called their song "The Christmas Song"? Would there be dozens of identically-titled entries in the Christmas songbook?) Followed heartrendingly by "Silent Night." Oh man, don't get me started; "White Christmas," "Silver Bells," "2,000 Miles" -- it's too much! I used to think that the Christmas songs were like a Top 40 countdown of the last 500 years. They've been weeded out for so long that the only ones left are these amazing, super-concise, hokey-as-hell gems.

Justin Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack

Favorite holiday memory: One of my favorite holiday memories is the Halloween blizzard of '91. A group of friends had planned to go out and cause trouble with eggs, but it got really cold and started to snow. So we ditched that idea, went to some rich girl's house that one of us knew, and watched MTV all night (we got snowed in). That was the night I first saw Nirvana's video for Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not the greatest story in and of itself, but the fact that an act of nature set in motion a series of events that led me to Nirvana and changed my life musically, is pretty wild when you think about it.

What is a favorite holiday tradition of yours? Strangely enough, up until this year my family has always celebrated what I like to call: Drunk Christmas. A lot of our extended family lived near us and for some reason Christmas was celebrated at our house on Christmas eve, after those who went to church were able to get there. The night would start around 9pm and go until all hours of the night. Upwards of 30 people would be there at any given moment and kids take a long time opening presents since they have to play with everything immediately. By 2am the adults were all totally smashed and the house was destroyed. I have no idea how my parents cleaned up and played Santa Claus before 6am when my siblings and I got up. Now that they are grandparents, we are starting at 4pm for the little ones. Things were certainly different in the '80s.

What are you looking forward to the most this holiday season? I'm looking forward to spending time with my wife and our families and getting to see my niece and nephews. 

Favorite holiday song: Anything from Burl Ives' Christmas Album or "Christmas At The Zoo" by The Flaming Lips.

Kevin Bowe of The Okemah Prophets

Favorite holiday memory: My favorite holiday memory is when I first started dating my (now) wife, Ruth Whitney. She had just opened the Fine Line, so of course she had the alarm code to bust in. On Christmas morning 1987, we snuck in and made breakfast in the kitchen; it was amazing.

What is a favorite holiday tradition of yours? Pistachios.

What are you looking forward to the most this holiday season? The day it's over. Christmas is cool, but by the end of it all I'm spent.

Favorite holiday song: We always have the Beatles White album playing in rotation, I don't know why but we always do. Guess I have to go with "Helter Skelter." If you knew my family you'd understand.

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