The Jackson sisters of Bluffton gather around the family’s spinet for some Christmas carols and holiday love. From left are Sofie Beth, 10, Penny, 5, Gloria, 6, and Ruby Lee, 3. Penny is currently enrolled in piano lessons.

The holidays are upon us! The sights, sounds and smells of the season are finding their fullness day by day as we approach their apex later this month. 

One of the elements of holiday time that brings back incredible memories of seasons gone by is the presence of music. Music is perhaps one of the defining characteristics of the season lasting between Thanksgiving and New Years. 

Try to imagine the holidays without its perennial soundtrack – I dare say it can’t be done! From “Over the River and Through the Woods” to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to “Ave Maria” and everything in between, Christmas songs, secular and sacred, permeate our sense of the season and truly define its cozy, comfortable character. 

The 1966 Broadway musical “Mame,” written by Jerry Herman and starring Angela Lansbury, premiered the now-classic Christmas ditty “We Need a Little Christmas.” While most of the lyrics are self-explanatory, some listeners might have needed a little help with the verse: “But we need a little Christmas / Right this very minute / Candles in the window / Carols at the spinet.” 

Excuse me, some might ask, but what is a “spinet”? It’s a catchy rhyme, but what does it have to do with Christmas? 

Many more of us, however, might have fond memories of evenings spent gathered around a spinet for hours, belting out carols with family, friends and neighbors. 

A spinet, for those needing help with the lyrics, is a small, parlor-sized upright piano, which at one time occupied the living rooms of most homes across America. In recent decades, spinets have given way to other home furnishings and amenities, and I believe that we are the poorer for it. 

These days, instead of creating music ourselves at home, we rely on recording artists to provide it for us. 

However, there may be a light in the musical darkness. Many families are discovering the delight of traditional pianos that can be retrofitted to play themselves. Carols at the spinet – or the baby grand, or the grand upright, or the full grand – are possible at the push of a button on an app, digitally igniting the mechanical parts of an acoustic piano. Strains of “Jingle Bells,” “O Holy Night,” or any Bing Crosby tune allow a family to sing and dream about a white Christmas from the celebratory comfort of their living room once again. 

Even better, Bing Crosby might sing along with you, or (a miracle of digital technology) the likes of Michael Bublé can give a concert on your very piano while you gather ’round to hear the music and watch him live on your smart TV. 

If you’re growing weary of the same Christmas songs repeated on the radio, while grandmother’s piano sits silent in the corner, it might be time for Santa to bring some different music down the chimney this year. Jerry Herman would be proud! 

Jennifer Herrin is the co-owner of Kawai Piano Gallery by Herrin in Bluffton. or