Just in Time for Christmas

Kyle Chayka

He’s everywhere. Kyle Chayka is the guy you want to bring home to your parents so he can explain the Internet to them. His haircut right now is amazing, too. I hope he never cuts it.

A Very Vince Guaraldi Christmas
by Kyle Chayka


There are two things that make me really feel like it’s the holiday season. The first is the traditional yawning sense of dread as the year slides toward its inevitable conclusion—the realization that nothing you’ve accomplished in the past 12 months is nearly enough and in the new year, as the Roman torso tells Rilke, “You must change your life.” 

The second is this.

[Music — Linus & Lucy, skip track and continue]

If you don’t recognize it as instantly as I do, it’s “Linus and Lucy” from the soundtrack to the 1965 TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. 

It’s that old cartoon where the Peanuts gang discovers the true meaning of Christmas via a droopy tree and some religious pontificating by a kid who still carries a blanket. 

The TV show never meant that much to me. The music, however, did.

Every year, I fought my younger brother over which CD would play as our family constructed and then hung ornaments on our tree. 

Almost as lame as the one in the TV special, we own a fake, plastic Christmas tree that requires its branches to be unfurled by hand every holiday, a process that carpets the floor in spiny green plastic strips. This is because both my mother and myself are extremely allergic to actual evergreens indoors. For us, the Christmas spirit can be lethal.

My brother’s preferred decorating soundtrack was a CD of Celtic-style covers of Christmas songs that sounded to me like what would happen if you invited the cast of Riverdance to go caroling. 

My choice would always be the jazz album, with its precise drums from Jerry Granelli, wandering upright bass by Fred Marshall, and Guaraldi’s own pounding piano. When the album ended, I would rush to hit repeat before anyone else in the family had a chance to change it.

I can’t entirely explain its alchemy, but listening to the album daily from December 1st to January 1st—the only time it’s legal to do so, lest you ruin its power—has become a personal form of winter self-care. 

I’m not alone in my choice of therapy. “All my non-work time is spent standing in the shower while Charlie Brown music plays,” a friend recently told me.

I sent the album to one of my editors as part of a hopeful batch of end-of-year story ideas. “I am definitely listening to this whole album right now and feeling great about it!!!" she responded immediately. The pitches didn’t elicit as positive a reaction.

It might be nostalgia for jazz trios in an era of pop star covers of "Jingle Bells” that makes it so good. Or maybe it's the density of the production, with its years of reissues adding layers onto the original until it sounds like nostalgia itself.

The music emerges hazily from another time—the fictional, perfect past we want every holiday season to return us to. 

But I don’t really care to analyze it too much. I just play it over again.