Is Christmas music wonderful or annoying: you decide
The Christmas album is, with a few notable exceptions, is one of the laziest types of albums an artist can record. Hit the studio with some session guys on autopilot, record a few holiday classics, and throw some “Christmas-y” elements in the mix, like jingle bells, or the sound of snow and ice whipping around.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you might do some half-assed skits about Santa, or read a poem in between songs. The worst of these albums become so- bad- it’s-hilarious holiday kitsch, like Bob Dylan’s baffling Christmas in the Heart from 2009, and Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s cringeworthy This Christmas from 2012.
Worse, in my opinion, are the middlebrow holiday albums that aren’t terrible, just boring. They clutter up Yuletide store shelves and foist thousands of unwanted covers of “The Christmas Song” onto defenseless listeners. If you take just one quick stop by Sirius XM’s “Holly” channel, which plays Christmas music recorded in the last 25 years, I guarantee you’ll be driven away by the endless procession of faceless crooners, and pop and country superstars on autopilot that make up most of its playlists. If you flee to a classic seasonal radio station like Chicago’s 93.9 FM, you’re met instead with all the old standards, but they will be repeated so often that by the second hour of listening, you’ll want to drive your car into the lake if you have to hear “Rudolph the Red- Nosed Reindeer” one more time.
The holiday music listener is stuck between two unappealing options: being smothered to death by boring new recordings of overplayed songs, or being pummeled into the ground by the same 10 classics on endless repeat. What’s the solution?
I believe that the best remedy is for artists and professional songwriters to start composing new, interesting Christmas music again. When I think about my favorite Christmas songs, the ones that I can return to season after season without getting fed up, most of them are either the original recordings of standards from the 40s and 50s, like Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas,” or Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song,” or songs composed in the last 50 years or so, since the invention of rock and roll, like Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” or Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
When artists do new versions of old songs, they’re best when they completely reinvent them, like the Cocteau Twins’ version of “Frosty the Snowman,” or Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” I even have a soft spot for that quintessential example of 80s hubris, Band- Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” because it’s slick synth-pop sounds are a refreshing contrast to the old strings-band- jingle bells recipe that the tracks surrounding it usually have.
These songs are classics for a reason: the songwriting and instrumentation are very high quality, and are unique in their own ways. The holiday music racket needs more songs like them: original compositions that do new interesting things while still keeping the atmosphere and spirit that people associate with the holidays. Instead of doing yet another cover of “Sleigh Ride,” or “Winter Wonderland,” or (god help us) “Jingle Bells,” make new standards to break up the holiday monotony.
While I agree that it’s easy to get sick of the same old holiday music we always listen to, I think the solution isn’t to create a new wave of holiday music. The solution is to stop playing holiday music so damn much.
First of all, holiday music is inherently not inclusive. Even though radio stations and that one guy from accounting that DJs your office holiday party always take care to play “Celebrate it’s Kwanzaa” or “Oh Hanukkah” at least once, the fact of the matter is holiday music is primarily Christian. We don’t need radio stations that play holiday music all of December, or holiday music being played in stores, restaurants, and coffee shops all the time. Those places should continue to play the secular music they play during the rest of the year.
The place for holiday music, because let’s face it, holiday music means Christmas music most of the time, is in religious services. I get plenty of Christmas music in mass, it doesn’t need to be everywhere else between Thanksgiving and New Years.
Lots of people make the argument that as long as you take care to also play songs written for holidays of other faiths around the same time, it is inclusive. However, not every religion has a holiday in December, and not every person has a religion.
Our country has commercialized many aspects of Christmas over the years, and in doing so has forced it upon people who don’t practice Christianity or celebrate Christmas. We need to start recognizing this and fighting back against it in order to create a more inclusive space.
I’m Catholic and I love the traditional hymns sung during the Christmas season. I’m going to continue to enjoy them during mass and by myself, or when celebrating Christmas with friends and family I know also celebrate Christmas. I am not, however, going to play Christmas music at my workplace, in class, or when spending time with friends who do not celebrate Christmas.
I urge everyone to continue to enjoy all the traditions that are a part of the holidays they celebrate and to share them with friends who are interested and want to experience them, but also to stop assuming everyone celebrates a holiday during what we refer to as the “holiday season” and not to make other people listen to music that is centric to your belief system.