A Dist-mas Miracle

Our recent recording of “The Quirkiest 1980s Christmas songs” was an especially fun one for me, as I am a big fan–perhaps even an aficionado!–of Christmas songs. Secular or religious, it doesn’t matter, but I will confess that my fondness for them is especially focused on older tunes from the 50s and 60s, the ones I would hear on our stereo at home or on the TV at my grandparents’ house when I was quite young during the 70s. My appreciation for holiday music produced after the 60s didn’t develop until I was a young adult. And while I *think* I might have been a tad stubborn in that process, intervention and support from beloved college buddies served to broaden and update my Yuletide musical taste (whew!). Before my repertoire expansion, however, my love for those older songs led me to begin a college tradition during December of 1989 using the cutting-edge technology available at my school.

My family had a fair amount of those sentimental Christmas songs of my youth on vinyl, and at some point during high school I created a mixed tape for myself of my favorites, the ones that inspired a visceral reaction and transported me back in time to Decembers past. After my first Thanksgiving at home as a college student, I returned to school armed with that cassette and ready to experience the holiday season on campus. I vividly recall popping the tape into my boombox in my dorm room and immediately feeling a strong urge to share my love for those tunes with my new friends, all elsewhere occupied on campus at that moment.

It just so happened that the college I attended had a state-of-the-art technology initiative program in place, and in addition to a new laptop, each student received a corded landline phone that gave access to a campus-wide digital voice mailbox system. One of the many features of this system included the ability to create a distribution list of recipients for any voice message that a user wished to send. While this tool was mainly useful for the various departments & clubs for more effective communication, I suddenly realized that evening that it was also the vehicle for my music-sharing wish! I eagerly shifted my attention from the 6-8 page essay due at the end of the week, learned how to create a “dist list” of friends on my phone, held the receiver up to my boom box to record a 20-ish second clip, and sent out my moment of joy for others to experience asynchronously. I couldn’t have anticipated it at that first procrastinating moment, but because of the appreciative replies I received to that first holly-jolly share, a three-year December tradition was born. (It would have been four years if not for my participation in a study-abroad program my senior year; I was thwarted by the lack of a cassette player and access to the voice mail system.) My holiday music dist list steadily expanded over the next three years as I discovered how much and how many people enjoyed receiving those clips. (My only regret: I did not know Will well enough in college to have included him!) When I reflect on that experience now, I’m realizing, even as I type, that it effectively served as a primitive form of social media… and content creation!

Reader, you have my wishes for a joyful December as you celebrate— or choose not to celebrate— with whatever traditions you hold dear. (Thanks go to my friend and college roommate Lucy for the inspiration to document this experience!) Let us know if you have any holiday tradition that began at college or when you were a young adult.

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