|The Columbus Commons decked out in Christmas lights|
First off, I wish you and yours a safe and holiday season. I think we, like most of you, are grateful that this year is on the way out. Likewise, we hope like many of you that 2021 proves to be a hundred times better than this last year was for most.
Like Thanksgiving, the dinners centered around the December holidays (Christmas, Hannukah, etc.) will be different for many. Obviously, the (lack of) gathering of family and friends will prove to be the main difference, but for many, traditional meals might not be in the cards this year.
For us, the Filipino spread that my parents and siblings put out won’t be an option, but we are making sure that some of the most beloved stuff (Polvoron Candies and Toblerone candy bars, for example) will be available for consumption. But like Thanksgiving, we’ll bring some new things into the mix that we may adopt for the holiday season in future years.
With that in mind, this week’s playlist is also holiday-themed, with songs reflecting traditional foods from various celebrations, with an added twist or two in there to keep things festive (or, should I say, Festivus.) (Playlist embedded at the end of this post.)
1) “Lechon, Lechon, Lechon” – Victor Manuelle: Lechon, or roasted suckling pig, is a popular holiday dish in many countries with colonial Spanish roots. Bringing this dish to our table is the New York-born but Puerto Rican-raised Manuelle (known as “El Sonero de la Juventud”, or “The Singer of Youths”), who has been one of the leading purveyors of Salsa music since the 1990s
2) “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” – Meat Loaf: The holiday for the “rest of us”, Festivus has been transformed from a memorable skit on the sitcom Seinfeld into something of an unofficial holiday for this time of year, with rituals ranging to “Feats of Strength” and “Airing of Grievances.” On the show, the only food presented was a Meat Loaf on a bed of lettuce, which is represented here by a man with one of the more unusual careers in rock music, taking the Broadway-esque creations of Jim Steinman (including this song) to multiple appearances on the Billboard charts, with the song title somewhat appropriate for many folks around the world on this holiday.
3) “Fruitcake” – The Eraserheads: The object of much derision (talk show host Johnny Carson famously proclaimed that there’s only one fruitcake in the world , and everyone keeps gifting it to everyone else), fruitcake is something I’ve found far more palatable…in fact, darn good…in home recipe versions than the ready-for-gifting store shelf varieties. This holiday staple here is represented by The Eraserheads, a group who many have called Filipino version of The Beatles (their success has led to a wave of alternative rock bands in the country) – this tune takes a somewhat dour look at the season, but all it takes is love and fruit to bake to make life a piece of cake.
4) “Christmas Dinner, Country Style” – Bing Crosby: this singing legend is credited with the biggest selling holiday single of all time (“White Christmas”, which has sold over 50 million copies since its release). Here, Crosby sings about a traditional Christmas meal of several decades ago, including country ham, marshmallow yams, chestnut stuffin’ and huckleberry muffins.
5) “Pavlova Song” – The Pavs & Jordan Luck: The crispy-crusted-outside but lightly-soft-inside pavlova (and the related Pavlova Wreath and Pavlova Tree) has been a holiday tradition with many countries of the British Commonwealth. Providing the musical accompaniment is Jordan Luck, frontman for the popular New Zealand band The Exponents, who basically sings the recipe for the Kiwi version of this sweet treat.
6) “Hot Tamale Baby” – Buckwheat Zydeco: The venerable tamale is a staple item for people living in many countries across Latin America, and it\’s not exclusive to the Christmas months either. Representing this delicioso delight is Lafayette, LA native Stanley Duron aka Buckwheat Zydeco, who along with his band Ils Song Pont (“They Have Left”) achieved mainstream success and considered a zydeco music trailblazer.
7) “Latke Recipe” – Maccabeats: The acapella group Maccabeats (formed in 2007 at Manhattan’s Yeshiva University) has proven to be adept at the parody. Here, they give a nod to Cincinnati’s own Walk The Moon and their popular hit “Shut Up And Dance With Me” to give praise to this Hannukah staple, a fairly simple affair of shredded potatoes, onion, eggs, matzo meal or breadcrumbs, and seasoning.
8) “Pannetone for Bass” – Cobra Kai: Advertising themselves as “Aberdeen’s Finest Misery Rockers” on their Bandcamp website, the band Cobra Kai had a relatively short lifespan of three years. This is in contrast to the Pannetone, the Italian yeasted loaf which has origins all the way back to the Roman Empire and, unlike the somewhat similar fruitcake, tends to be a popular last-minute add-on gift or dinner table addition for most people.
9) “Wild Goose Chase” – Steel Pulse: Again dating back to ancient times, the Christmas goose has been a standard holiday protein for much of Europe, including England. England (Birmingham, specifically) just happens to be the birthplace for socially-conscious reggae outfit Steel Pulse, which has been pumping out music since 1975 and whose song here comes off their 1984 release “Earth Crisis.”
10) “Dżordż Makowiec” – Podwórkowi Chuligani: The Makowiec, a yeasted poppy seed roll, is one of the 12 traditional food items on a Polish Christmas meal, and is meant to symbolize prosperity. Here, Podwórkowi Chuligani adds a ska beat in their ode to this sweet treat.
11) “Buñuelos a Monton” – É Arenas: Bassist for the critically-received Chicano Batman, Eduardo Arenas’ ode to Buñuelos (the title roughly translates to “Tons of Buñuelos) is really an ode to a number of holiday dishes you’d find on families’ tables throughout Latin America. But even here, the Buñuelos can vary – Mexican versions tend to be flat dough discs topped with cinnamon and sugar, while the Colombian versions are ball-shaped and filled with cheese; still other countries fill theirs with Yuca.
12) “Melomakarona” – Lenka Peskou: A Greek Christmas tradition, Melomakarona are oval-shaped orange and cinnamon cookies soaked in honey syrup and coated crushed walnuts. Born in Czechoslovakia to Greek parents, Peskou is an accomplished pianist, and is skilled at a number of wind instruments to boot.
13) “Nyama Choma” – Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga: Samba Mapangala and Orchestra Virunga has proven to be one of the more popular bands in East Africa for nearly four decades. While this song clocks in at over 7 minutes, it might be worth moving your body to the fancy dance groove laid down here for the entire length. The title gives a nod a dish found in family homes around the holidays in Kenya – its base model form involves skewered goat meat grilled with salt and pepper, but more fancy versions have the meat marinated with minced garlic and onions, and red pepper flake. A dish such as this might also be found at a Kwanzaa celebration, where African-origin dishes have become more commonplace alongside African-American staples developed here in the states.
14) “Still Love Christmas” – Colin Gawel: Local Columbus music veteran Gawel has rocked out both solo and with numerous outfits (including Watershed, The League Bowlers, and The Dead Schembechlers) for nearly three decades. Here, our playlist closer offers up the local watering hole as a place to grab a drink for folks who have nowhere else to go. This destination is none other than Columbus’s Dick’s Den, a bar and music venue in the Old North neighborhood of the city that has been a local favorite since the 1960s. You might not see me at 3 PM on Christmas Eve this year like Gawel, but I think we both agree that we still love Christmas, even if 2020 has made it hard to do so at times.