Last updateMon, 18 Jan 2021 7pm


The Importance of Christmas Music

ImportanceAs I lay in my bed at night, final exams and the holidays approaching like a festive freight train, nothing calms my nerves quite like Spotify’s “Christmas Cocktail Jazz” playlist.

There’s something simple and beautiful about Christmas music. Almost every single Christmas song revolves around themes of gratefulness and joy. But hasn’t 2020, for lack of a better word, been pretty bleak?

Definitely. And it’s no secret that the holidays are the source of great anxiety and depression for many; this year, perhaps exceptionally so. So, to say that these bad vibes are understandable is an understatement.

This season is different, and a lot of people aren’t able to do the things they normally would; people can’t be home for Christmas, halls will be more sparsely decked, and it just doesn’t feel holly jolly. What is it, then, that makes Christmas music have that almost mystical feeling of happiness?

Take Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Most people could probably identify that song from the first two notes on the glockenspiel. From the very first time we hear “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” as children, twinkling bells like these are automatically, in our minds, associated with stars and lights. Even though it’s a secular piece, the song drives home themes of togetherness, love, and gratitude; “I don’t want a lot for Christmas/There is just one thing I need/Don’t care about the presents/Underneath the Christmas tree.”

At first, the lyrics seem somewhat commercial, almost shallow. And they are. However, commercial as they are, we can still analyze it as a piece of art related to Christmas; that’s what it is. To that end, as a Christmas song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is one of the archetypal examples of the themes these songs try to get across, and I think it’s beautiful, in a way.

Carey, though known as a diva in showbiz, clearly made something special when she recorded her Christmas hit. But the song has a beautiful, anti-commercial message at its core: that there isn’t any material possession I’d rather have than the presence of my loved one.

In fact, it echoes the sentiment of plenty of other carols; even religious ones. I am not a religious person by any means, but I think that Christmas hymns are very similar to secular carols when it comes to their scopes.

Most of these Christmas songs center on worship, but at their cores, songs like “Silent Night” and “Little Drummer Boy” are about a bigger umbrella concept that is often mentioned around this time of year, gratitude. Like Ms. Carey, the authors of these traditional Christmas carols intended to convey the gratitude they had. However, the object of this gratitude is where they diverge in their themes.

In the traditional piece “Angels We Have Heard on High,” the Latin phrase “Gloria in excelcis deo,” which means “Glory to God in the highest.” While the objects of gratitude change, that feeling permeates the holiday season regardless of song content does not.

Finally, imagine the song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The lyrics are supremely simple, and the point of the song is that the “carolers” aggressively wish good tidings and cheer to the listener. It’s a simple song, but effective; and it follows the thread of gratitude and goodwill towards all people that runs through the Christmas song canon. More than anything, we could use a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

This year hasn’t been extraordinary in any positive ways; there’s really no way around it, and I like to be as honest of a human as possible. Entertainment has saved us this year as far as keeping ourselves occupied. And I’m grateful for that and all the other opportunities I’ve been afforded. This Christmas won’t be the best ever, but if we can harness our gratitude and listen to some really great music at the same time, well, I think that’s pretty amazing in itself.

A friend of mine taught me a word recently: hygge. It’s a Danish word, and it refers to a specific kind of coziness and warmth that leads to contentment. I like to imagine that an inherent quality of Christmas songs is hygge; these songs are meant to make us want to snuggle up together like two birds of a feather and embrace the season, not shun it. Even with all the brutality COVID-19 and lockdown have brought us, and even with the cold setting in, I like to think Christmas music, in all its simplicity, can at least provide us that sense of comfort and joy that it feels like the past year has been lacking.

         Happy holidays, everyone.

PHOTO TAKEN by Alex Dyer

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