I have to admit, my initial response to Mark Binder’s CD A Holiday Present! Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Solstice, New Year’s (Light Publications) was unenthusiastic. The carefully non-denominational cover illustration and the tagline “Warm, joyful, and fun adventures celebrating giving and family” had me bracing for some seriously touchy-feely PC crap. Includes “We Wish You a Merry Multicultural End of Year Holiday Season” hit single? Gimme a break.
I was relieved to discover that this collection of family-oriented holiday stories ranges from silly to thoughtful, with just a hint of subversion. Binder explains his inspiration for the song “We Wish You…” with the story “The Little Drummer Boy Medley,” in which he and his Christmas-abstaining family suffer through a seemingly never-ending Xmas muzak medley — on the day after Thanksgiving. “And they didn’t even do the David Bowie and Bing Crosby version!” Some tales (like “The Gold Coins”) have a traditional feel about them; others (e.g., “The Boy Who Hated Potato Latkes”) are clearly Binder originals. Plenty of wacky voices and places to chime in will engage little listeners. Just as important: adults can listen with kids without being hit over the head by morals or contracting deadly Raffi-itis.
Binder says, “One of the things that we do around the holidays is — in order to keep warm — we tell stories, because stories fill our minds and spirits.” Having grown up in a family whose Thanksgiving celebration always includes Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”, it feels like a good combination to me. But even if you don’t normally make storytelling a part of your Festivus festivities, A Holiday Present! does make a nice break from “The Little Drummer Boy.”