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Christmas music is a divisive genre. I know people who love it and people who hate it. I’m somewhere in the middle: Even though I’m not a big fan of most religious-themed music outside of actual hymns, I love Christian Christmas carols. Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit like “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and I actually listen to lesser-known, underrated carols like “Infant Holy,” “Breath of Heaven” and Amy Grant’s “I Will Lead You Home” all year round.
Secular Christmas music, though — like “Frosty the Snowman,” “White Christmas” and freaking “Winter Wonderland” — induces a disgust, even despair, in me that is hard to describe. It’s like being forced to listen to Radio Disney on a loop, and all they’re playing is “Who Let the Dogs Out?” and “The Hamster Dance.”
I’m perfectly all right with Christmas being accessible to people of any faith or lack thereof. Christians didn’t really start the holiday in the strictest sense, so it’d just be hypocritical to tell everyone else to keep their noses out of it. But, even if you’re not Christian or religious in any way, I hope you’ll understand what I mean when I say that Christian Christmas music is at least about something. Even if you think Christianity is founded on a myth, songs about Jesus are still conveying powerful ideas, and, when listening to songs, it’s clear the artists are singing from a place of emotion. I can listen to these songs all year and still get something out of them.
So, to be clear, I am not saying Christmas cannot be mainstream and secular. It can, and I’m for it. Anyone who wants to celebrate Christmas should be able to; this is not a rant to keep Christmas itself strictly religious. But secular Christmas songs are objectively terrible. They’re trite, inane, boring and thematically anemic. It’s like someone decided to base a massive subgenre of music entirely around seafood or cell phones: The things themselves have appeal through the roof, but there is just zero artistic potential there for a song.
At most, the music world could’ve sustained ONE song about Santa, shopping or sleigh rides. It wouldn’t have been a good song or anything, but, again, it would’ve been at home on Radio Disney. Hey, maybe that’s the problem: I feel like all these songs just were not written for adults. They simply are not talking about anything. Their appeal and level of songwriting seems exclusively geared toward children. And no, I’m not just talking about obvious bedtime-story songs like “Frosty” and “Rudolph.” I’m talking about the ones that people actually try to sing with sincerity, like “The Christmas Song,” “Silver Bells” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” When people in Christmas concerts actually close their eyes and touch their cheeks, ala Mariah Carey, as they croon lyrics like “Although it’s been said many times, many ways, merry Christmas to you” or “City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style,” as if they are tapping into some wellspring of emotion in their hearts, my very soul gags a little. (To our WSU choirs, I realize I just ranted my way out of an invitation to your holiday shows.)
On the rare occasion these songs are even about anything, they’re either about consumerism or just kind of hollow imagery like “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” (in case you haven’t noticed, I really hate that song) that is nice and all, but does not really warrant singing about. There’s a reason love and breakup songs dominate most music genres — they’re about something meaningful, relatable and intrinsically human, even if they’re not written or sung well. What’s evocative or descriptive of the human condition about jingle bells or that literal life-wrecker, snow (plus, I just really dislike Bing Crosby’s voice)? I mean, I like secular Christmas things, like holiday cookies, but that doesn’t mean they warrant a song, does it? Wait . . . that Christmas carol’s been done? (YouTube “Christmas Cookies” by George Strait.) Oh . . . my . . . Christmas music, do you see what you did? See the logical conclusion of your well-meaning frivolity?
What? You think I’m way too passionate/cynical about songs that are just for fun? Granted, I have a lot of feelings, but it didn’t have to be this way; the ubiquity of terrible Christmas music has made me what I am. I am a product of our increasingly soulless Christmas culture.
P.S. OK, I’ll be fair for a minute: “The Christmas Shoes” is a non-secular song, and it is just as terrible as any secular jingle. That’s the only bone I’m throwing.