While at the Pacific Place Pottery Barn on November 1, I overheard a fellow shopper berating the clerk. "Why do you have the Christmas decorations

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Carol of the bulls

While at the Pacific Place Pottery Barn on November 1, I overheard a fellow shopper berating the clerk. "Why do you have the Christmas decorations up so early?" she fumed. "It's not even Thanksgiving yet."

I spun around and confronted her. "What would you prefer?"

"Pilgrims, or some turkeys . . ."

"Oh, that'd really brighten up the place: dowdy-looking religious zealots and a gaggle of filthy barnyard fowl. Why don't you throw in some plague rats, too?" I stormed out, my rage verging on violent. Nothing makes me see red faster than some two-bit Scrooge trying to stem the Yuletide.

Christmas is my favorite time of year. Some mornings the only force powerful enough to rouse me from my bed is knowing that Santa's visit crept one day closer while I slumbered. Come November, activities like addressing cards, threading popcorn-and-cranberry garlands, and faxing wish lists around the globe turns my life into a giddy whirlwind.

Some miscreants don't share my enthusiasm—but they will. Just last night, I was shimmying to Wendy and Carnie Wilson's forgotten masterpiece "Hey, Santa!" when a pounding came at my door. There stood my downstairs neighbor, clearly bearing tidings of less-than-good cheer. Instinctively, I thrust a fragrant piece of oven-fresh gingerbread under his nose. Three cups of eggnog later, he was whistling "Let It Snow" as I trundled him off to the 24-hour drug store for more wrapping paper.

The very best of part of Christmas—even better than cornering your postman with a sprig of mistletoe—is the music. Don't whine that you're tired of carols; you're just listening to the wrong versions. Since ditties like "Jingle Bells" are so familiar, they're ripe for truly oddball readings. Why do nitwits like Jewel tackle the standards when the world already has Christmas in Zitherland? Stars with no business being in a recording studio—"Bonanza" buckaroo Lorne Greene, for instance—rarely display reservations about asking fans to sit through their warbling "O Holy Night."

December 25 constantly inspires new classics, too. John Denver died knowing he'd never top "Please, Daddy (Don't Get Drunk This Christmas)." But since some people impose strict limits on when and how they celebrate, such songs rarely get heard. Oh, the injustice of a world where the Waitresses' "Christmas Wrapping" just collects dust in radio station archives nationwide until after Thanksgiving.

So as a public service—my little gift to you—here are five lesser-known Yuletide favorites. When one more chorus of "Good King Wenceslas" has you ready to whip out a pistol in Nordstrom's, any of the below should snap you right back into the proper holiday spirit.

1. "Snow" by Claudine Longet—A French nymphet popular in the late-'60s, Longet sang in a wispy baby-girl voice that made Astrud Gilberto sound like Mahalia Jackson. This Randy Newman-penned treat finds her wandering amidst falling flakes, lamenting lost love in a state of frostbite-induced dementia. Her crazed condition seems especially believable upon learning that the singer's career was derailed after the accidental shooting of her boyfriend, a famous ski pro, led to jail time for manslaughter. Look for it on the import-only Best of Claudine Longet.

2. "If You Were Born Today" by Low—The slowest indie rock trio around harness their spacey jams to a sleighful of seasonal fare for their latest CD, Christmas. On "If You Were Born Today," the threesome acknowledge that should the Baby Jesus return to earth circa now, "they'd kill you by age eight" for claiming to be the Messiah. A sad sentiment coming from the mouths of sincere Christians.

3. "Christmas" by Dina Martina—Stuff a copy of The Dina Martina Holiday Album in every stocking on your list this year. In this Seattle treasure's wide-eyed account of the greatest story ever told, the Three Wise Men come bearing incense and peppermints, and Christmas cheer means something as simple as "just smiling at a blind person on the street." Girlfriend's obviously dipped into the wassail bowl one time too many.

4. "Holiday for Teens" by Paul & Paula—These teenyboppers looked sweet and innocent by early-'60s standards, but underneath their cozy cardigans beat the hearts of two juvenile delinquents. Here our sweethearts praise Christmas not as an opportunity for celebrating the brotherhood of man, but just a chance to ditch school till the new year. Hear the shocking truth on A Rock 'N' Roll Christmas 2.

5. "Things Fall Apart" by Cristina—In the era of conspicuous consumption, nobody played the poor little rich girl better than this deadpan chanteuse in a bustier; a young Madonna copped some of her best moves. To listen to her shrug off the indignity of trimming a cactus with earrings she'd forgotten to pawn, hunt down the out-of-print Ze Records compilations A Christmas Record or Zetrospective: Hope Springs Eternal.

 
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