Patricia Vonne's 'My Favorite Holiday' is a bilingual celebration of faith over fear
“Santa’s On His Way,” the swinging jingle jam that leads Patricia Vonne’s new release, “My Favorite Holiday,” spilled from her in a surge of gratitude.
It was Christmas 2020. For months, the world had been “in the throes of COVID, lockdown, complete shutdown,” Vonne said.
Businesses were closed and thousands of people unemployed. Food banks in Central Texas were experiencing unprecedented demand. Shocked by news footage “of thousands and thousands of cars in line just to get food on the table” in her hometown, San Antonio, Vonne had been playing weekly livestreams to benefit the city’s food bank. When the holidays rolled around she felt overwhelmed with joy at her listeners’ generosity. In response, she composed the bilingual ode to hope and cheer that evokes warm memories of watching the Christmas classic “It's a Wonderful Life” with her family at Austin’s Paramount Theatre.
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As the new year began, she sent an a cappella version of the song to her friend Scott Plunkett, who plays guitar with rock & roll crooner Chris Isaak. She asked him to lay piano and vocal lines. She thought it could be a fun single.
“When he sent it back, it sounded like a big band orchestra,” she said. Her heart exploded. She felt called to do more. Over a period of seven months through the spring and summer, as the world moved in and out of COVID-19 restrictions, her seasonal celebration came together in what Vonne thinks of as a series of small miracles.
“The entire album, it truly was divine inspiration,” she said. Her frequent collaborator, Rosie Flores, helped her write the rockabilly Christmas romp “Santa’s on a Rampage.” Panamanian actor and musician Rubén Blades, whom she considers a hero, carved time out of his busy film schedule to record the duet “Las Posadas.” Despite pandemic-mandated separations, arrangements came together easily. Throughout the whole process, she felt guided by the Holy Spirit.
“It was like Baby Jesus saying, ‘Don't worry. Do it for me. I'll choose your band. I'll help you write the songs. Don't worry about a thing,’” she said.
'The Mexican von Trapp band'
The songs on “My Favorite Holiday” are all originals with one notable exception: Vonne’s four sisters went into four different studios in three different states to record harmonizing parts for a classic rendition of “Carol of the Bells.” Their voices weave together in a playful a cappella, reminiscent of the family singalongs that defined Vonne’s childhood.
Vonne grew up in a large family. In addition to her sisters, she has five brothers.
“There was always music in the house,” she said. Frequent visits from mariachi bands would prove to be influential. Growing up with the beauty and drama of Mexican music inspired Vonne to make all her albums bilingual. Her brother, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, named his first movie “El Mariachi.”
Their mother loved the movie “The Sound of Music” and “was like our quintessential Maria von Trapp,” Vonne said.
Rebecca Rodriguez came from a broken family. “She was an orphan,” Vonne said.
With an unstable home life, Rebecca Rodriguez didn’t enter school until she was in third grade, but she managed to catch up with her peers. She was at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio studying nursing and a postulant to become a nun when a friend set her up on a blind date with Cecilio Rodriguez. On their third date he proposed.
“My dad said he was going to propose on the first date, but he didn't want to scare her,” Vonne said.
As her family grew, Rebecca Rodriguez began to emulate her beloved holiday movie. She made the children matching outfits and taught them her favorite carols.
When visitors came over during the holidays, Vonne said the children would descend the stairs clutching candy canes and singing.
“We were like the Mexican von Trapp band,” she said.
Faith over fear
Vonne’s parents instilled in her a strong Christian faith, which she leaned on while making the album.
“Now It’s a time to share/ With those who have not/ Spreading laughter, joy and love/ With compassionate hearts,” Vonne sings on “Christ Child,” emphasizing the true spirit of Christmas as unselfish love. “Noche Buena” paints the picture of a Christmas Eve shimmering with anticipation of “el tesoro del cielo,” the treasure from heaven. And “Las Posadas,” the duet with Blades, reminds us that the nativity story is at its essence a refugee story.
“Las Posadas” translates to “the inns” and it is a celebration of the nativity marked throughout Latin America.
“(It’s) nine days of celebration for the nine nights that they were trying to find a place," Vonne said. "In the biblical story they went to like 50 places.”
Children act out Joseph and Mary’s journey in a procession from “inn” to “inn.” In song, they inquire about room at the inns, only to be turned away again and again. When the children finally reach the manger where Mary can give birth, they crack open a piñata and celebrate with candy and punch.
“It's kind of funny because I am a real estate agent. And it feels like Las Posadas all the time with these Mexican families that cannot find a home just to rent,” she said.
When she’s looking for homes for families with babies, Vonne said she often includes photos of the infants in applications to appeal to the renting agent’s heart.
“And sometimes they mark them off because they're Mexicanos and they feel that they're probably not going to be able to pay rent,” she said. “You know, it's discrimination. So I mean, I'm like, ‘Wow, it's Las Posadas.’ I feel like it's Las Posadas. We're trying to find a place.”
Like many of the songs on the album, Vonne believes “Las Posadas” was so easy to write because it pays homage to her parents’ teachings.
“The lyrics like 'Noche Buena, Christmas Eve,' those are lines that my mother would teach me,” she said.
The songs on the album, even the rock songs, underline one of Vonne’s guiding principles: “faith over fear,” which she said feels more vital than ever in the current era. Regardless of what god you worship, Vonne believes faith becomes an essential anchor to help weather difficult days.
“Right now, we're living in the darkest time still. And it's so shocking to me that in America, no child should go hungry, and no adult should have to choose between utilities and a meal. It's just not right,” she said.
With her heart full of faith, she made this album. “I wanted people to know, this is what I believe. This is what I was taught,” she said.
“He came to this earth to give us salvation and to alleviate the pain and suffering. If we only believe.”
'My Favorite Holiday' release show
When: 7 p.m., Nov. 27.
Where: One2One Bar.