Bob Dylan’s Christmas album has been a talking point in Bobdom for some time. When one of my best Bob fans dismissed it I didn’t rush to acquire. How wrong he is and I was! “How does it feel?” is a question synonymous with Dylan and here he doesn’t tell you how Christmas feels; he makes you feel it! There is warmth to this collection of songs that has you gathered with the family, round a hearth filled with a burning log fire, singing along to Theme Time radio. That particular radio show that Bob has been hosting for a few years has, without doubt, influenced the choice of songs and the fifties arrangements that they are dressed up in. The little vocal backings are so un-Dylan but so Christmas. Who would have imagined forty years ago that we would ever hear Bob Dylan cover songs originally released by the likes of Bob Hope, Nat King Cole, Jim Reeves and Dean Martin!
Don’t for a minute, though, think this is a throwaway album by an artist who used to deal in world changing events! For the Christian this is maybe the world changing event and Dylan doesn’t miss the history changing implications. Christmas In The Heart captured in both personas of the season. There is the Santa centred, gift giving, chestnuts roasting one where everyone switches off their selfishness for a day or two and cuddles into the best of their humanity considering! Many Christians throw out this “secular” festival as a curse on the blessing of the real meaning of the season. Dylan rightfully celebrates this side of the season for the sense of joy and fun that shortens a dark winter and brings people together. However, he doesn’t let it get in the way of the more deeply rooted meaning of the season. Santa at Christmas is no harm providing it doesn’t distract from the real possibility for humans of this remembrance. These Christmas Carols would not have been in the family repertoire back in Bob’s Duluth upbringing. Dylan grew up Jewish and had an intensive conversion to Christianity before keeping everyone, maybe even himself, wondering since the early eighties. On this record Dylan doesn’t miss the theological implications at all. Most Carols pack a storytelling theology carrying weightiness and here he does powerful versions of Hark The Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful including the Latin, The First Noel and A version of O Little Town of Bethlehem that ends with a long Amen that more than suggests Dylan’s emphasis.