What Makes Christmas Music So Special?
Oh Christmas music. Love it or hate it, we are bombarded by it starting late each November until the end of the year. At stores, on the radio, in movies and on TV, it’s everywhere. But, why is this the only time of the year when “regular” music all but goes away and is replaced by familiar jingles dedicated to the holiday season.
Christmas music is remarkably interesting, in my opinion, specifically how Christmas music has an emotional component that’s rarely found in other musical categories. More on this in a bit.
Christmas music is a huge genre. There are Christmas songs that fall in the category of pop, jazz, rock, folk, and more. There are hundreds of versions of traditional Christmas songs by artists that run the musical gamut. Some of those are inspiring and amazing, others well…not so much.
What’s so great about Christmas music? Well, Christmas itself is an emotional time of year. But, what emotions does Christmas evoke? That is where it gets interesting. Christmas is a time of reflection. It’s a time of deep feeling both positive and negative. Christmas is a time of miracles, of celebrating joy, family, friends, laughter, success and all that life has to offer. But, on the other hand Christmas can be lonely, sad, nostalgic, tragic, melancholy, and painful. I have personally felt both sides of the emotions of Christmas, I bet many of you have as well.
That is why I find Christmas music so interesting. Music can help us feel our emotion in deeper ways. Just hearing a song can pull the feelings from the depths of our souls. Whether music brings back a memory or whether we can empathize with the lyrics of a song, music is amazing in this way. The emotions it can stir is one of my favorite things about music.
Well, being that Christmas is a very “emotionally complicated” season, it would stand that Christmas music would also have to be emotionally complicated. Is it? I’d guess that many people would say, no! How is “Jingle Bells” complicated, how about “Deck the Halls,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?” These are simple, albeit memorable, fun and cheerful kids songs that get children in the spirit.
But, these aren’t the songs that I believe show the real emotional depth of the season. There are a few Christmas songs that reflect the deeper side of Christmas. The juxtaposition of cheer and melancholy. Let’s look at some of these.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is…”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I think it blends the two sides of the Christmas emotion together perfectly. Its main lyric is wishing someone a merry little Christmas, saying “our troubles will be out of site (or miles away),” acknowledging the troubles that have been experienced and that the season will mark an end to them. The song talks about “golden days,” “faithful friends,” while meandering through some of the most emotionally nostalgic sounds that a song can deliver. Some great versions of the tune, that express this mixture of happy and sad AND bring their own cool musical flare are by James Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart, and Ella Fitzgerald. Although Ella’s version is not as sad sounding. It has a quicker tempo, more playful feel, but it’s great.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a great example of this nostalgic sound that Christmas songs can have, and that music can help us express. A few other songs that seem to fit this category are “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire),” “Who Comes This Night,” “In The Bleak Midwinter,” “Silent Night,” “River,” (which I’m not totally sure is an actual Christmas song 😊. It’s great anyway!).
Another perfect example of lyrics saying one thing while music says another is “Christmas Time is Here.” Wow, talk about a song that’s giving mixed messages. The lyrics say things like, “Happiness and Cheer, Fun for All, Beauty Everywhere,” while the music is evoking a sadness, thoughtfulness and nostalgia that drives deep into the listener.
The reality is that no matter what your beliefs, Christmas probably plays some part in your life and other than being a holiday it is also a year-end milestone that marks the passing of another year, the things to celebrate and the things to mourn. There is much richness to this unique season and the music tends to reflect this.
I personally love music that is emotionally deep. Music that helps me feel forgotten emotion, or emotion that was hiding somewhere. There’s something about these few songs, that we tend to only dust off and listen to this time of year, that bring depth, character, charm, nostalgia, memory, and a mixture of emotion that is rare. Most songs tend to stay on one emotional line. Happy, sad or whatever it is. But, it’s this mixture that is beautiful in music. It’s when the lyrics say one thing while the music plays something emotionally different, that makes this season, and its music, so great.
This is a side of music I deeply appreciate and enjoy. It’s something that is reflected perfectly in a few songs of this season and for that I am grateful. Christmas is a perfect example of how music can help us express emotion, feel it deeper, share it more meaningfully and do so while sharing a musical moment with friends and loved ones.
Cheers to you, your family and to music. I hope this season brings you all the cheer that life has to offer, and that music can play a part in that!
P.S. A fantastic Christmas album played by a wildly talented band, that expresses deep emotion, playfulness and richness without any words, is the soundtrack of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” by Vince Guaraldi Trio. I hope you enjoy it as much as our family does!
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