When you think of December, what comes to mind? For me, it’s the scent of pine and peppermint, the warmth of pajamas donned early, the feel of a mug of tea or cocoa in my hands. There’s a hint of the extraordinary—of preparation for end-of-the-year festivities. For some of us, December might be more of a sensory overload—lots to plan, cook, and prepare.
Whether this last month of the year is relatively relaxing or like running a marathon, here are a few perhaps out-of-the-ordinary sounds of the season to give you a little breather and boost your mood. In the tradition of my mother, who believes every cup of tea must have an and (something to eat alongside the drink), I’ve included a taste alongside each sound to hopefully infuse your month with a little extra comfort and joy.
01. Dom La Nena
A friend recently introduced me to Brazilian singer and cellist Dom La Nena. Dom sings in multiple languages including Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English. I’m struck by the contemplative nature of her songs, as well as the clarity of her voice. Her music videos are also a delight to watch because of their personal feel. Whether she’s walking alongside a street festival or dancing with family members, her work evokes togetherness and gratitude for simple pleasures. A few songs that I personally enjoy: “Sambinha,” “Juste Une Chanson,” “Llegaré,” and this remix of “Batuque.” Dom’s music reminds me that even as an adult, I can encounter life with wonder. As a child, December was synonymous with brimming anticipation; like a still-wrapped gift, Dom’s work reignites that hopeful awareness of something not yet known, something sweet and surprising. Try listening while sipping some Brazilian hot chocolate for a dose of coziness.
02. Lindsey Stirling
I’ve been a longtime fan of Stirling’s work, which combines aesthetic artistry, dance, and amazing violin playing. If you’re in the mood for something upbeat and instrumental, I recommend a listen. The worlds she creates around her music through costuming and dance often tell stories of hope, and for me hope has always been a feeling that’s set December apart from the rest of the year. Check out “Transcendence,” “Guardian,” and her violin rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for uplifting and inspiring melodies. I’m especially drawn to the way she delivers “Hallelujah”—in the midst of a crowded train station—and the heartfelt Christmas message that follows the performance. Her generosity in sharing her musical gifts with others strikes me as a hallmark of this season.
Part of this generosity has played out in the many collaborations she’d done with other music artists. Her podcast, String Sessions, takes listeners into in-depth conversations with some of those she’s accompanied. With Stirling’s songs, I’m pairing her own down-to-earth cooking video for cocoa black bean muffins, replete with surprise appearances from family members and Stirling’s charming sense of humor.
03. The Bittersweet Life
For all of us out there longing for the days we can travel again, The Bittersweet Life podcast, covering the expat experience, travel, and everyday living, has something for everyone. From travel memories to interviews with authors, artists, and travelers to meditations on art and poetry, the hosts Katy Sewall and Tiffany Parks engage in dynamic discussions prompted by their longtime friendship.
I was especially moved by one of the shorter episodes—called Bittersweet Moments—dedicated to the beauty and benefits of memorizing poetry (Bittersweet Moment #55). Others that have intrigued me include interviews with psychologist Susan Engel in Episode 316: The Nature of Memory and visual storyteller Cyndie Burkhardt in Episode 341: Around the World in Twelve Months. Episode 311, which covers long-distance friendship, has felt particularly relevant this year. Sewall and Parks are also wonderfully attentive to their fan base, sending not only extra content, but also hand-written letters, to those who support the podcast.
Holidays often involve some sort of travel or at least reconnection with loved ones. It delights me that this podcast offers an invitation to “travel” the world without leaving home. Peruse the podcast archive, and consider trying your hand at this festive biscotti recipe in honor of Parks, who currently resides in Rome.
04. Kina Grannis
If you’re seeking songs that feel like lullabies but also have the solidity of well-written lyrics, look no further than Kina Grannis. One of her recent songs “Crawl” is a lovely reminder of quiet perseverance in the midst of difficulty. Some of her older works have recently sparked joy in their contemplative creativity. In the lyric video for “Dear River,” she asked other musical artist friends to lip-sync her song, and the result is a visual representation of one of the ways people in the music world support each other. In this version of “In Your Arms,” jelly beans are used to create the scenery, adding extra whimsy to an already sweet song.
Grannis’s music reminds me of quiet, cozy evenings, where the early darkness allows ample time for my creativity to run wild. Maybe I’ll bake a batch of sugar cookies, write holiday cards to friends, or create homemade gifts for my family. I can imagine Grannis drinking this punchy version of the traditional hot apple cider while wrapped up in a blanket in the music video for “Crawl.”
05. Ester Rada
I discovered Ester Rada’s soulful, jazzy voice on Spotify in the upbeat songs “Life Happens” and “Sorries.” Rada’s Ethiopian Jewish roots are present in her work through the layering of musical genres—Ethio-jazz, groove, soul, funk, and R&B. In the music video for “Sorries,” she takes listeners through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City neighborhood as she sings. In this 2014 intro to her work by the BBC, Rada mentions that exposure to the music of the synagogue, the Ethiopian music that permeated her home life, and musicians on MTV all influenced her artistry and the music she’s produced.
In May 2020, she released a Hebrew-language album called חסד (Chesed, a Hebrew word with translations including love and kindness). From this album I’ve especially enjoyed the title song and one that translates to “River Cruise (with Anat Malmud).” While “Life Happens” and “Sorries” fill me with the desire to celebrate life and dance, the songs on חסד invite me to contemplate the year that’s passed, to appreciate the joys and to consider what the sorrows have taught me.
Marking the transition from one year to the next, December has often been a time for reflecting on what I’ve learned from the year. Rada’s work invites me to celebrate the good without forgetting the difficult. In honor of Rada’s Jewish heritage, I’ll add a Hanukkah sweet to my listening—the delectable and easy-to-make sufganiyot.
As a month chock-full of preparation, holidays, and memories, December is the perfect time to discover the comfort, joy, and peace of the season. I’m hoping that amid your preparations, you’ll also consider what brightens your days and take a moment to enjoy. When we’re able to offer our hearts and minds small havens of quiet, even in the busy times, we’re better able to enjoy the beauty of the holidays, and of our lives.