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A Song and a Christmas Tree

Andy Williams, Writing & Running

When I was growing up, we had 4 or 5 Christmas albums (ask my sister Mary) that we played over and over. I clearly remember the covers of each album; and those particular arrangements of the classic songs on those albums are still my favorites, evoking all the memories and feelings from my childhood Christmas seasons. But Mr. Andy Williams here, he kind of blew my mind, and was likely my first introduction to the idea that you can take artistic license. You can play with form. You don't have to stick to the rules.

There is a song on the album called "A Song and a Christmas Tree", which is his version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The tune is the same, and the set up is the same. In fact, he lulls us in by, more or less, following the rules through the 4th day of Christmas (although we get a bit of foreshadowing of things to come: his true love isn't making the deliveries, his good friends are. And although they bring the appropriate number of items through Day 4, they don't bring the original items. In fact the first day they bring a song. A song. You can give someone a song? I loved that idea. You can give someone a song. A poem. A performance. An idea. Your writing...) But by Day 5, he goes entirely off script, and his friends just start delivering whatever they want, in no particular quantity, but chock full of joy and thoughtfulness. They bring stuff to decorate with. They bring mistletoe. Presents. A Guardian Angel. These are some good friends. And then, Day 12...the tempo slows..."On the 12th Day of Christmas, my good friends brought to me: ALL THEIR GOOD WISHES..." He was running his own race, and I was totally on board.

I was listening to this song a couple of weeks ago on a run, and Christmas past came flooding back to me. We didn't have much money when I was growing up, which possibly made Christmas even better; because Christmas was a feeling, an experience, a season. We got a present from our grandma (pajamas on Christmas Eve); one gift exchange present with the cousins; one present from our two aunts who lived together in downtown Chicago and came every Christmas on the train (or in a borrowed car); and one present from our parents. I got a lifesaver gift book at school, and an orange in my stocking that Aunt Polly bought from the FFA club. We went Christmas caroling on Christmas Eve after church, and my dad stayed home and made fudge. In its simplicity and dependable routine, there was abundance. In retrospect, I can see Diane the writer in that kid, stopping in her tracks in our tiny living room with red carpet and a fake fireplace, hearing Andy Williams taking liberties and making that song his own. It took another 40 years and a lot of miles to remember all of that. Running brought me back to myself and opened the door to writing. Running and Andy Williams taught me to run my own race. They've given me structure and my own style. Rules and play. The value of simplicity and a dependable routine.

So now I'm going to take Andy's lead, and write What Running Gave To Me; one post each day, starting December 12th. Same tune, same set up, but my own artistic (running) liberties.

Stay tuned...