Do you hear what I hear? The most wonderful time of the year has begun. You Grinches can whine and groan all you want that “iT’s noT EveN thanKsgiVIng yEt!!” but these sleigh bells wait for no one. Choirs will be singing yuletide carols until at least New Years and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Once you hear the ring-a-ling of silver bells, it’s over. The holly will jolly its way into your heart by Thanksgiving at the latest. As great as the food and decorations are, the music will be what converts you from a Scrooge to a Secret Santa.
What makes Christmas music so inescapable and permeating? Why is All I Want For Christmas Is You so electrifyingly jolly? Why does Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s rendition of Little Drummer Boy make me cry into mt hot chocolate? Why does Joy To The World feel like such a blast of, well, joy? In short: because we’ve heard them before.
Nostalgia is the name of the game when it comes to music, especially for the holidays. Lyrics like these bring back memories of the most exciting nights of our early childhood for many of us. Even though you grow out of it, that feeling remains dormant in our minds. The easiest way to wake it up is your favorite Christmas carol.
Not everyone grew up leaving a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick, but that reflects my favorite part of Christmas music—its versatility and diversity. Christmas has become such a major industry that there’s something for everyone. “Holiday music” isn’t so much a singular genre anymore, but a family of genres.
All of those different genres reflect all of the different meanings of Christmas. There are the fun songs you might hear at your office party, like Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree for those who just want to relax with a cup of eggnog. There are the religious songs, like Away in a Manger, for those who believe that the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Jesus Christ. For the secular, but still saccharine, songs like Someday at Christmas by Stevie Wonder appeal to an interpretation of Christmas as a symbol for a better tomorrow.
Personally, when I hear these words I can smell advent candles burning. That’s entirely based on an experience from a religious upbringing that some people might share, but plenty of others won’t. This song sounds like Home Alone, which of course was not the intention by the songwriters or performers. The meaning that I get from these songs, like the meaning anybody gets from any song, is entirely based on personal or cultural experiences. The true “meaning” of Christmas, as cheesy as it might be, is whatever you make it.
The nuance and complexity of a Christmas carol makes the holiday much bigger than the 12 days it’s “supposed” to be allotted. Until somebody sings a Thanksgiving song as beautifully as Bing Crosby, you’ll be hearing this from me every Nov. 1.