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broodings from the burrow

December 19, 2022


virtual advent tour 2022: day 19
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022

Because we’re planning to head north on Wednesday, our earliest departure in years, I’m defaulting to updating a classic post, first published in 2010:

Christmas music is as intrinsic a part of my holiday season as is a tree or presents. Each year my family looks to see who has new holiday albums coming out and breaks out the old favorites from years past. Each of us has a pretty sizable collection of Christmas albums crossing genre and spanning a variety of delivery formats from LP to 8-track to mp3.

My dad used to make an annual Christmas mix. He made a few Christmas tapes when I was growing up, but making it a yearly event definitely became much more feasible once you could build your playlist on the computer and then burn it to disc. Each year you eagerly look forward to seeing what he’s included on his holiday cd.

After making a few gift tapes myself back in college, I found the process to be a lot of work and stopped making mixes. But the allure remained and, after mulling it over for a couple of seasons, I resumed making mixes about a dozen years back. It’s a surprisingly involved process if you’re like me and prone to getting a bit obsessive about getting your mix just so. But I thought today, in honor of being a stop on the Virtual Advent Tour, that I could offer some insights into creating a Christmas mix that you and your loved ones will enjoy for years to come:

  • Start with a wide selection of music. It helps to have a collection of cds, records, or mp3s from which to draw. It is not imperative, however, as you can find plenty of holiday tunes online from which to draw. Clearly, free options are your friend, particularly if you’re starting from scratch.
  • Begin early. Prep now for next year. Just create a playlist labeled Christmas 2023 in your preferred music playing program and dump songs you like there. Consider this your vault. It’s not too late to create one for this year, but if you want one done by Dec. 25th, don’t wait!
  • Song selection is key. Here are my rules. Obviously yours will vary by taste and inclination:
    • I like to keep it pretty even between male and female singers. That’s a personal preference because I definitely notice when a mix slants one direction or another. (Although, usually I find that if there’s a noticeable bias it tends to be toward the mix creator including a mostly male line-up.)
    • Shorter songs are preferable. Aim for roughly three and a half minutes per song. Older songs are usually shorter; more modern ones tend toward the five-plus minute mark. I’m not saying to exclude long songs, although I try to keep those to a minimum. Christmas songs tend to get a bit repetitive and the longer one goes on, the easier it is to get tired of it. Plus, if you choose to burn your mix as a cd and you pick long songs, you get to include fewer songs.


    • Include some artists you love even outside Christmas. You might decide only to include artists you listen to year-round, but I tend also to add artists I’m not familiar with who have songs I find very catchy.
    • Find a balance between modern and traditional holiday music. By traditional I’m referring to songs everyone can sing along to. Marvin Gaye’s “Purple Snowflakes” is a song you can groove along to, but it’s not one that’s likely to get a carload of people singing along with it on first listen. But those unique tracks tend to be ones that people remember because, honestly, nearly every singer with a Christmas album has done a version of “Silent Night.” (I also like to throw in an instrumental or two. If your audience’s attention has wandered, a lack of vocals can help recall it to your mix.)

  • Once you’ve assembled a collection of songs you like, it’s time to start playing with them. First, know your target number. If you’re putting this mix on a cd, you have 79 minutes to play with. If you’ve picked mostly longer songs, that’s probably 15 tracks. If you’ve gone with shorter pieces, you could get 20 or more songs on the cd. But it’s good to check this number regularly because there’s nothing worse than putting together a mix you love only to find that the last five songs aren’t going to fit on.
  • I find it’s important to get your first and last songs right. The first song needs to draw your audience in, so I like an upbeat song to get you started. And the final song is that last taste you’re leaving people with. I like something a bit quieter here to send your listener out on a peaceful note. “Silent Night” would be a good choice here or “O Holy Night.”


  • In between those I try to alternate every couple of songs, upbeat for a couple, then slow for one or two. Listen to your mix several times. If you find you’ve stopped hearing it or you get bored, move your songs around to create better transitions or bump the song that bored you. Sometimes a song sounds perfect by itself but just refuses to play nicely with any of its neighboring tunes.
  • Finally, don’t forget to come up with a catchy title for your mix and artwork for it if you’re making cds.

  • And, as with any holiday endeavor, try to remember you’re doing this because it’s fun and you like Christmas music. If it becomes too much of a hassle, by all means stop. There’s nothing wrong with just putting albums on the stereo or computer or listening to an all-Christmas radio station. This way gives you a unique and special holiday mix, but it’s definitely less important than spending time with your loved ones. And there’s always next year.
Category: christmas/holiday season. There is/are 1 Comment.

December 18, 2022


virtual advent tour 2022: day 18
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022

Don’t panic folks, but we have one week left until the big day. You can do it. Pick one thing on your to-do list and cross it off today. I believe in you.

Today, I’m sending you back out on the road for a tour stop at Staircase Wit. Constance has a review (and giveaway) for you of a Christmas-themed novel, which you could pick up today and read while eating delicious holiday treats. (Trust me, I’m reading it now. You’ll want a cookie or two on hand and maybe a glass of egg nog!)

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December 17, 2022


virtual advent tour 2022: day 17
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022

Today the tour is on foot through the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. Rudi and I found ourselves with a free evening, so we headed out to check out this year’s Georgetown Glow light installation.

This nighttime extravaganza of light, video, color, and interactivity is in its eighth year, and while this year covered less ground than some previous years, it was still lots of fun with five pieces around the waterfront and shopping district of the neighborhood.

First up on M Street was “Light Falls” by Leandro Mendes-Vigas, a light and sound installation designed to recall Mendes-Vigas’ Brazilian Amazon rainforest and cleverly concocted out of two stories’ worth of duct hoses:

Georgetown GLOW 2022Georgetown GLOW 2022

Threading our way past construction, rowdy students taking a break from finals, and closed storefronts, Rudi and I headed toward the river. At the entrance to Washington Harbor, we found our first interactive display with “Picto Sender Machine,” by Felipe Prado:

Georgetown GLOW 2022Georgetown GLOW 2022

At first, it just looks like a color-changing display of screens, which would have been fun enough on its own. But then you read the sign and realize that you can do this with it:

Georgetown GLOW 2022

After playing for a bit, we walked along the Potomac over to where the fountain is during the summer to get to our third installation, Alicia Eggert’s “All the Light You See”:

Georgetown GLOW 2022
Georgetown GLOW 2022

We head up Wisconsin Avenue to the Episcopalian Church, where we found a yard of butterflies:

Georgetown GLOW 2022

Georgetown GLOW 2022

Georgetown GLOW 2022

Masamichi Shimada’s “Butterfly Effect” is probably the most subtle of the light displays, with the various panels on the butterfly wings shifting through bluish-purply hues over time, but it was very pretty.

Rather than stay on the street to get to the final Georgetown Glow installation, we crossed the bridge by Georgetown Park (kind of a weird mall-ish space, but also the spot where Andre Agassi literally ran into my mother) and their light display:

Georgetown GLOW 2022

Georgetown GLOW 2022

On the other side of the mall, we reached the final installation, another fun interactive one:

Georgetown GLOW 2022

Cloud swings! The one I opted to grab wasn’t working properly, but if you swung on the other two, they changed from white to varying colors and brightness depending on how fast and hard you moved. “The Cloud Swing” was created by Lindsay Glatz and Curious Form.

Thanks for coming along with us on our tour of Georgetown Glow!

Category: christmas/holiday season. There is/are 1 Comment.

December 16, 2022


virtual advent tour 2022: day 16
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022
Today’s Virtual Advent Tour gives you a game to work on while you’re between tasks. I remember being in high school the first time a teacher gave us a version of it, probably on a day after a test or before early dismissal, when we were unbearably inattentive or rowdy. We all had a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoy it too:

Here are the initials of the titles of 25 conventional Christmas tunes. Can you figure them all out? (All initials are capitalized, regardless of whether the word should be in the title.)

  1. OCT
  2. JTTW
  3. GKW
  4. SN
  5. OCAYF
  6. TLDB
  7. GTIOTM
  8. TFN
  9. FTS
  10. HTHAS
  11. OHN
  12. RTRNR
  13. OLTOB
  14. SB
  15. AIAM
  16. IHTBOCD
  17. DTH
  18. JB
  19. AWHHOH
  20. GRYMG
  21. WCIT
  22. SCICTT
  23. UOTH
  24. WC
  25. ITMWTOTY

I’ll post the answers over the weekend. Have fun!

Category: christmas/holiday season. There is/are 3 Comments.

December 15, 2022


virtual advent tour 2022: day 15
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022

The Virtual Advent Tour heads back out on the road today to Rudi at Random Duck. He’s got a tremendous holiday show for your pleasure today, bound only by the best Christmas musical presentations of all time.

Give yourself some time to check this one out!

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December 14, 2022


virtual advent tour 2022: day 14
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022

Today on the Virtual Advent Tour, I’ve got a holiday book review for you:

It is December 1985 in an Irish village in Claire Keegan’s novella, Small Things Like These, and Bill Furlong and his wife and five daughters are preparing for Christmas.

Bill runs a small coal delivery company, and it’s been an okay year for them. Not everyone can pay their bill, but enough people can that he can afford not to chase after the families he knows can’t. As a small business owner, he’s able to keep some people employed, even as factories are laying people off. He and his wife can send their children to the local Catholic schools and pay for the dentist and put gifts under the tree and, as long as they are careful, can mostly live a comfortable working-class life with the respect of their townsfolk.

A quiet, thoughtful man, Bill is proud of being able to provide in this way. He grew up the child of an unmarried, but loving, mother in service to a kind-hearted local woman, and he knows that without those women (and the male gardener who also worked for the estate), he’d likely have gone down a much different path.

So, when, the Saturday before Christmas he makes a delivery to the local convent and discovers something he’s not supposed to see, it sends him into a spiral. How did he get to this point and how would his story have changed if things had played out differently in his and his mother’s past? What if the careful choices he’s been making have inadvertently hurt people and have protected people causing harm? And what choices do you make when you know the ripples from your actions will affect someone else, no matter what you do?

Keegan combines the same distinct sense of time and place with that timelessness that I associate with Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. And despite it taking place during my childhood, it read to me like something out of the 1950s, which I think both helps to give you the distance to process the story and underscores that this took place so recently.

This is a novella, so you could buy it or borrow it from the library this week and still read it before Christmas Eve, when the story ends. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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